A strong second-half performance from Exeter City’s Under-18s saw the Grecians run out 4-2 winners over Forest Green Rovers U18s on Saturday.
FGR opened the scoring in the first period, however, Kye Cooper’s equaliser typified the attacking threat the Grecian players possessed after half-time.
Rovers scored a penalty to retake the lead, but Alfie Clark’s close-range finish levelled things up once again and handed the momentum back to City’s youngsters.
A brace from Pedro Borges capped off a brilliant turnaround, which meant the Devonians have completed their Youth Alliance South West fixtures with another victory, but they will have to wait and see what position they end up in, as the clubs around them will have to finish their respective matches in hand before everything is finalised.
ECFC’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati, took a rather depleted squad up the M5 to Gloucestershire to take on the league’s bottom side in what was a tricky fixture on paper.
Despite coming into the contest as the in-form side after being unbeaten in their four previous matches, Exeter’s play in the opening 45 minutes was rather indecisive and mundane as they failed to really create a clear-cut opening against a stubborn home backline.
A good battle developed in the wider channels, where both Jacca Cavendish and Liam Oakes were tested regularly by the Forest Green wingers, however, both full-backs stood up to the constant threats they faced.
But overall, the direct play of FGR was largely effective and caused problems for their opponents. Rovers managed to manipulate one attacking opportunity into a decent chance, from which they slotted the ball past Dylan Shanahan to deservedly make it 1-0.
That meant that when Donati and his players regrouped at half-time, a clear half-time message was delivered, outlining that the team had to play to their strengths, and a lift was required in the second period.
The reaction to the coach’s words was instant, as the Grecians showed a clear intent from the restart. An early equaliser came when Cooper latched onto a precise through ball, before his speed saw him accelerate away from the opposing defenders. The wide-man found himself within shooting distance of the goal, and he kept his composure to place the ball beyond the Rovers goalkeeper to bring his side back into it.
The hosts though mustered a response of their own despite the equaliser, and from another attacking surge, they won themselves a penalty, which was confidently dispatched for 2-1.
But once again, the reply from the City players was admirable, as their belief continued to grow throughout the half despite having no substitutes to call upon to change the flow of the game from the bench.
The score became 2-2 when Cavendish raced up the right-hand side and showed great endeavour to keep an attack alive. After stopping the ball from going out of play, he got himself into an advanced position down the flank, before his centre found Clark, who made no mistake in poking the ball in from a few yards out.
The visitors, with all the impetus, then proceeded to continue creating the better of the chances and appeared to be the likelier to score the day’s fifth goal.
A little later, Exeter’s Borges displayed a real determination to run through into a threatening position, and the midfielder cleanly struck the ball past the ‘keeper to hand his side the advantage for the first time in the game.
As the clock ticked towards the final stages, the lead Donati’s men possessed was deservedly doubled courtesy of a high press from the front. The intensity of the work off the ball caught Forest Green out, and Borges manoeuvred himself into a decent position before smashing the ball home to secure the all-important three points for his team.
The victory means the Devon club end the season five games unbeaten, and, for now at least, sit in fifth position in the league standings. Oxford United U18s are just a place, and a point below them, but have a chance to leapfrog the Grecians thanks to their two remaining fixtures.
Exeter City’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati: “We were very much safe and it was an apprehensive showing from us in the first half. Forest Green were direct and caused us a few problems, but the benefits of that were Jacca Cavendish and Liam Oakes had lots of opportunity in the wider areas to focus on their 1v1 situations.
“We were a little slow in working things out what they were doing, and at half-time we discussed that. We made it clear to the boys what our strengths were, and told the team to play to them. I spoke to Alfie Clark and Pedro Borges about getting themselves further up the pitch, making forward runs and being braver in possession. They both showed progression in that sense by both scoring.
“The boys have all been working hard, physically and tactically this week in training, which has been good for us, but tough. In the second half, there was a clear showing that there has been a step up, and a progression from the players, and there is more to come.
“With it being half-term this week, we have the Under-16s coming in which will mean larger training numbers. We also have a friendly match lined up for Friday, and we will then be hoping that after a week of everyone catching up, the Merit League will be underway.
“The boys joining us in training this week aren’t just coming in to help, and they won’t just be bodies. We want them to be a part of the group, and we want to improve and progress them as individuals as well as the overall group. It will give us a collective opportunity as an Academy to be together, including the staff, which allow us to provide more support to the boys too.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Dylan Shanahan, Jacca Cavendish, Sam Joce, Scott Simmons, Liam Oakes, Tom Dean, Gabriel Billington, Pedro Borges, Alfie Clark, Kye Cooper, Theo Cutler