Exeter City’s under-18s endured a difficult day on the road as they lost 5-1 to Oxford United U18s on Saturday in the latest round of fixtures in the Youth Alliance South West division.
U’s striker, Gatlin O’Donkor was the man of the match as he netted four times, and his solitary strike in the first period gave the hosts a well-deserved lead at half-time.
O’Donkor scored again straight after the restart, before Kasway Burton made it 3-0, while George Spencer’s penalty gave the Grecians some reward for their efforts.
But another two goals from O’Donkor late on handed the Yellows a convincing victory, which in turn has seen Exeter drop to fifth in the league standings.
ECFC’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Kevin Nicholson, was looking for a response from his young squad following their 3-3 draw with Forest Green Rovers U18s last weekend.
However, a trip to Oxford is rarely straightforward in youth football, and, coupled with the Devonians missing a few key personnel, they were going to have to be at their best if they were to come away with any points.
The strength of the United side was underlined by their first start, and they created their first meaningful chance after eight minutes, however, Andrew Sowden, comfortably saved the 20-yard effort.
Unfortunately for the visitors, that only proved to be a warning as the U’s broke the deadlock in the 27th minute. A long throw-in from the right caused chaos in City's 18-yard box, and a smart turn from O’Donkor saw him roll his marker and volley home from close-range to open the scoring.
In response, some positivity did come from the Grecians which offered those in red and white some hope. Alfie Clark’s mazy run just after half an hour saw him dart into the penalty area, however, the winger could only drag his shot wide from a tight angle.
O’Donkor had other ideas though, and just two minutes into the second half, the striker doubled his side’s advantage when he collected a long ball and struck his one-v-one chance cooly into the bottom corner for 2-0.
That goal really handed the home team the initiative, and just five minutes later they scored again. Burton collected a precise pass, before some neat footwork gave him enough room to squeeze a shot at goal, which proved to be too good for Sowden and handed Oxford a three-goal advantage.
The Yellows squandered two decent opportunities in a matter of moments just before the hour mark, and they were punished for their wasteful shooting as some bright play from Nicholson’s men saw them win a penalty in the 63rd minute.
Mitch Beardmore isolated a defender on the left-hand side of the box, before he drew a foul, which gave the referee little option but to award the penalty. Beardmore’s strike partner, Spencer, stepped up for the spot-kick, and he confidently dispatched his attempt past Monty Marriott to pull a goal back.
That conceded effort didn’t disrupt too much of the United rhythm, however, and they quickly re-established their three-goal cushion when O’Donkor completed his hattrick. Aidan Elliott-Wheeler's decent work on the right flank saw him link up with O’Donkor, who reacted sharpest in front of goal to eventually fire past Sowden and his scrambling defence to make it 4-1 with 20 minutes remaining.
The scoring was rounded off nicely from a U’s perspective on 74 minutes when O’Donkor picked up possession from outside the area. With the attacker gifted enough space to try his luck, he let fly from long range, which went beyond the reach of Sowden and into the back of the net to seal the victory.
There was still time for Exeter’s Tom Dean to go close from a free-kick, while up at the other end, two excellent stops from Sowden kept the scoreline relatively respectable.
However, when the referee did end up blowing the full-time whistle, there were few arguments that the better side won, meaning the Devonians will be hoping they can change their fortunes with their second fixture in the Under-18 Professional Development League Cup next weekend.
Exeter City’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Kevin Nicholson: “Saturday ended up being a really good game for us. After talking with their coaching team, they admitted that they were able to field their strongest team of the season for them, and it ended up being a really good test for our lads. Their centre-forward, who has already signed his professional deal, unfortunately for us, was a bit of a monster, but it was a good experience for our back three to go up against him as he was physically dominant.
“From a learning point of view, we try to emphasise to the boys that how they are off the pitch often reflects what happens on it, and our back three ended up leaving one another to look after themselves, and you can’t afford to do that as you have to look at for one another sometimes. That meant there were too many opportunities that young Jacca Cavendish was left one-versus-one against their striker. The majority of the goals we conceded came from 1v1 battles where they were particularly stronger than us.
“Overall though, I’m a lot happier, even though we lost 5-1. They are a good team, but everything we got, we earned. Obviously, we are disappointed with some of the goals we’ve conceded, but there are lots of positives to take from this one.
“We were good on the ball at times, and played some decent football, and we showed some bravery in our play. Another bright spark was having Mitch Beardmore back. He is currently working his way back up to fitness following his ankle injury, but he was really bright and positive, and together with George Spencer, the two of them worked extremely hard in attack.
“It can be easy to hide away when the result goes against you like that. But in those types of games, you can see certain personalities shine through, and I'm proud the lads kept going until the end.
“We are away at Swansea City Under-18s next weekend with our second match of the Under-18 Professional Development League Cup. This cup is a big thing for us, and we’ll be preparing ourselves to win this tie. It is a different competition, so for the players, it will be a different view of what prepping for a game looks like. We played them in pre-season, and this will be another opportunity to put ourselves out there against a good side. We’ll go with a game plan, and try and get a result because this would be a great competition to progress in.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Jacca Cavendish, Sam Joce, Gabriel Billington, Aamir Daniels, Alfie Clark, Tom Dean, Jake Richards, Alfie Cunningham, George Spencer, Mitch Beardmore
Subs: Liam Oakes, Theo Cutler, Aaron Hale
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