Exeter City’s under-18s ultimately just fell short in what was a courageous display with 10 men on Saturday in a 2-0 home defeat to Portsmouth under-18s in the Youth Alliance South West division.
After an even start, the Grecians were enjoying a bright spell before they suffered a red card when Pedro Borges kicked out at Koby Mottoh following an aggressive press from the Pompey striker.
The Devonians defended bravely enough to get to the interval goalless, however, the away side found a breakthrough early in the second half when Gabriel Kamavuako’s low drive found the bottom corner.
Mitch Beardmore came agonisingly close to a City leveller, but with six minutes remaining, Kamavuako struck again to give Portsmouth all three points and leave the hosts still stuck in fifth position after eight matches.
Exeter’s youngsters were looking to bounce back following last week’s derby defeat, however, they had to do it without forward George Spencer, with Alfie Clark starting in attack and Joe Wragg brought in to one of the wing-back roles.
Despite recent results going against the Grecians in recent weeks, one player who has showed decent form is goalkeeper Andrew Sowden, and he reduced his side in just the second minute when Jacca Cavendish’s loose backpass accidentally played in Mottoh, however, Sowden dived at the feet of the Pompey player to avert any further danger.
Both sides settled into a rhythm early on, with some nice patterns of play put together in the middle third of the pitch frequently, however, the goalkeepers were merely bystanders as the defences were on top during the opening quarter of an hour.
The Grecians linked up nicely with a slick move involving Beardmore and Gabriel Billington, however, the latter’s dangerous cross was headed behind, and the resulting corner led to very little.
Moments later, the visitors carved open their best opportunity when they powered their way down the left flank. Jamie Howell’s pull back to Mottoh left the goal gaping, but he could only side-foot the ball wide.
Up the other end, Borges stung the palms of goalkeeper Malachi Osei-Owusu after 24 minutes, while Wragg sent a header off-target in the Devon club’s next attack.
Beardmore was becoming more influential in the game during the second quarter, and his closing down saw City create the best chance of the contest. Following the midfielder’s press, the ball ricocheted nicely to Clark, however, his effort was well read by the Portsmouth custodian, and the golden chance was squandered.
Then came the turning point, when Borges look to skip away from the halfway line. Hot on his heels was Mottoh, who appeared to have several grabs at the shirt of the Exeter number eight. Borges moved the ball on, but reacted to the unsporting challenge, which resulted in the referee dismissing the Grecians player for his actions, meaning his teammates were to battle on a man light for almost an hour.
From that point, Pompey began to dominate and see more of the ball. One shot flew over Sowden’s crossbar, while another a minute later saw Sam Joce produce a tremendous block to repel the threat.
Two strikes on goal in first half injury time from Mottoh should have perhaps added to the away team’s advantage but a combination of inaccuracy and safe hands from Sowden meant it remained goalless when the referee blew for the interval.
Portsmouth carried with their impetus after the restart, and they were left frustrated they didn’t double their lead when Joce and Sowden’s miscommunication following a cross from the right meant Mottoh had a free shot on goal. Joce blocked that effort from his own goalline, with the follow-up narrowly going past the post.
Wragg tried relieving the pressure for his team when he shot over from distance, but back came their opponents, and in bizarre circumstances, Pompey saw a goal disallowed on 52 minutes when Joce’s clearance struck Howell and ended up in the back of the net, but, the officials believed it struck the attacker’s hand when he diverted it goalwards.
That proved to only be a warning sign though, as the visitors did find a way through in their next foray forward. Cavendish’s header fell straight to Adam Payce, who in turn fed the ball to Kamavuako. His powerful strike from 18 yards proved too good for Sowden, with the ball flying past him in a blink of an eye for 1-0.
Portsmouth had another goal chalked off just before the hour mark after good combination play from Mottoh and Harvey Laidlaw. Howell’s volley was kept out by a tremendous diving save from Sowden, before the ball was bundled home, however, the linesman was quick to raise his flag, and so it remained just a one-goal game.
But, to their credit, back came the Devon outfit, and they enjoyed another prominent spell when they reintroduced their intense pressing and intricate play style. In the 63rd minute, Scott Simmons fired over from distance.
At the midpoint of the half, however, City fabricated their best chance for a leveller when captain Billington stole possession just inside the opposition's half. A precise through ball into the path of Beardmore set him up 1v1 against the advancing Osei-Owusu, and Beardmore’s dinked effort went over the ‘keeper, but millimetres wide of his left upright.
In the opposite goal, Sowden remained in top form, denying Mottoh with another top save when the striker’s shot took a slight nick on the way, but it was tipped around the post.
With 15 minutes remaining, both sides turned to their bench in order to swing the momentum their way. However, what it did was create a 10-minute interval that failed either side to gain any momentum courtesy of numerous stoppages for various reasons.
That seemed to affect the Exeter players more, and that, combined with a re-energised Pompey team ultimately led to the sucker punch that was the second goal of the game for the away side.
In the 84th minute, Portsmouth switched play to the left, before Laidlaw’s inside ball was met with a first-time finish from Kamavuako, which crept inside the far post to send everyone in blue into wild celebrations.
There was still time for the Grecians to muster a response, and some bright build-up play on the left saw a cross evade everyone except Liam Oakes, however, the replacement could only fire his shot into the onrushing defender.
As the full-time whistle sounded, a disappointed, yet proud Brad Miller and the rest of the City coaching team consoled the squad, and they’ll be hoping they can take the heart and application of this performance into Wednesday’s night FA Youth Cup clash with Newport County
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Sam Joce, Scott Simmons, Jacca Cavendish, Aamir Daniels, Joe Wragg, Gabriel Billington, Tom Dean, Pedro Borges, Mitch Beardmore, Alfie Clark
Subs: Liam Oakes
Please click here to view the current standings.