Exeter City’s Under-18s rounded off their competitive fixtures this season with a hard-working performance and a credible 2-2 away draw against Brentford U18s on Saturday.
The Bees opened the scoring in the early stages of the first half, before a lovely team move allowed Alfie Clark to equalise.
The Londoners retook the lead from the penalty spot, but back came the Grecians once again, and Ed James’ towering header levelled the scores.
Despite a frantic final 10 minutes, neither team could convert any of their late opportunities meaning the points were shared, and City end Merit League Two with 12 points.
Tom Donati’s young squad came into their final game of the 22/23 campaign off the back of a fortnight's break, with the hope they could end their season on a real high as their summer off-season took another step closer.
Experienced shot-stopper, Harry Lee, came back into the Exeter side, while Sam Joce and Harrison King returned to the match day squad.
With peak conditions on hand, the day promised a decent day of football at Woking FC’s Kingfield Stadium.
And it was the home side who started proceedings on top under the rays of the bright sun as they caught their opponents sleeping at times with some sweeping counter-attacking moves.
The Devonians slowly got a foothold in the contest though, and through midfielders Jake Richards and Mitch Beardmore, more possession and control fell the way of the visitors.
📝 The @ECFC_Academy under-18s rounded off their season with a hard fought 2️⃣-2️⃣ draw with @BrentfordFC on Saturday thanks to goals from Alfie Clark and Ed James ⬇️— Exeter City FC (@OfficialECFC) May 3, 2023
Read the report ➡️ https://t.co/PZVMkVfrel#ECFC #OneGrecianGoal pic.twitter.com/WnFD0M5Wnf
But despite the Grecians going through the gears and gaining momentum, they were hit by a sucker-punch when Brentford broke the deadlock against the run of play.
But the reaction from City’s youngsters was admirable, as they quickly regained their grasp on the game and began moving the ball more effectively.
And it was that precise passing that opened the Bees' defence up later on in the half when Clark was presented with a golden chance to equalise. The forward maintained his composure and finished nicely past the goalkeeper to make it 1-1.
The dominance in possession continued for Donati’s men after the break, as they consistently streamed forward with some lovely patterns of play.
But with the scoreline finely balanced, the London club always remained in the contest, and they posed their own threats with some swift breaks forward.
But it was an unforced error that allowed the hosts to retake the lead midway through the second half. With two Exeter defenders indecisive in how to deal with a loose ball in the defensive third, and goalkeeper, Harry Lee, also caught up in the confusion, one Brentford striker stole in and was brought down inside the 18-yard box. The referee had little choice but to award a spot-kick, which was confidently dispatched from 12 yards much to the frustration of everyone in light blue.
Donati introduced the likes of Theo Cutler and Santino Ohanaka from the bench to liven things up in attack, but it was another replacement from the away side that helped provide the team’s second goal of the day.
Courtesy of some hard work done on the training pitch, a set piece routine saw substitute King deliver a pinpoint corner towards its intended target. James got himself free of his marker, before the centre-back climbed high and directed his header into the back of the net for 2-2.
The final exchanges during the closing stages led to the game becoming stretched and open. While the last 10 minutes might have been stressful for both dugouts, the two sets of players both had chances to snatch a winner as it became an end-to-end affair that was evenly balanced despite the different styles on display.
With the away team’s lengthy spells in control, they might have felt they could have, and perhaps should have, won it over the 90 minutes, but as the referee blew for full time, both coaches came away relatively satisfied, with the point leaving the Devon outfit currently third in the standings, but with the other clubs around still having fixtures to complete.
Exeter City’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati: “It was a tough game, but probably one of the better games in terms of opponents we have faced. We perhaps deserved more from it, and the manner of the goals we conceded was poor, as it was too easy for Brentford to score, whereas we controlled and worked for our opportunities.
“I think if we lost, I would’ve been extremely disappointed, but to get a point away from home against one of the better sides, that was certainly pleasing.
“The players have to take some credit, and there is a massive thank you from me. It has been rather difficult for them recently with so much change going on, but I feel over the last 3 or 4 weeks, they have really turned the screw.
“We’ve given ourselves a good platform going into the summer, and then the new season for all of the players - for those going into the first team environment, those becoming second-years, and those new scholars too. It is certainly pleasing to end the season on a relatively positive day.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Max Edgecombe, Ed James, Aamir Daniels, Tom Dean, Liam Oakes, Jake Richards, Alfie Cunningham, Mitch Beardmore, Joe Wragg, Alfie Clark
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Sam Joce, Harrison King, Santino Ohanaka, Theo Cutler