Exeter City’s under-18s endured a difficult day on Saturday courtesy of a 5-0 defeat to Plymouth Argyle under-18s in the latest round of fixtures from the Youth Alliance South West division.
Caleb Roberts opened the scoring for the Pilgrims midway through the first half, before Jack Endacott doubled their lead seven minutes later.
Argyle’s Kieran Edworthy added another goal just before the break, while Finley Wilkes’ 20-yard effort made it 4-0 just past the hour mark.
Roberts netted his second, and his team’s fifth later on in the half to round off a dominant day for Plymouth, keeping the Grecians near mid-table in the league standings after seven matches.
Games between the two youth sides have been well-matched lately, with the most recent meeting before kick-off going in favour of the City’s youngsters in the opening fixture of the U18 Professional Development League Cup back in September.
However, Exeter lined up at Harpers Park with some key absentees, while defender, Ed James, continued to link up with Kevin Nicholson and the first-team squad.
But while the ECFC Academy enjoyed another successful day at St James Park after James made his league debut for the club, fortunes were a little different for the Grecians elsewhere in Devon.
Despite an encouraging start from the visitors, it was Plymouth’s U18s who started with more intent on their home patch, and they twice could have broken the deadlock inside the opening quarter.
However, for all of their supremacy, a hint of good fortune fell the host's way for the opening goal when Freddie Issaka’s shot deflected into the path of Roberts, who made the most of his lucky break to finish emphatically past Andrew Sowden.
That goal really kickstarted the Pilgrims into life, and the lead was doubled just seven minutes later courtesy of a cross from the right-hand side. A precise ball found Endacott, whose classy finish made it 2-0.
A minute before half-time, the hosts extended their advantage through Edworthy to make Darren Way’s half-time team talk that much sweeter.
A revitalised City side took to the pitch after half-time, and they limited their opponents to fewer chances as they tried to make a stand in the second period. However, just after the hour mark, Plymouth netted again when Wilkes finished from the edge of the box.
The win was sealed moments later when Roberts scored again, handing his side the resounding victory that avenged the last result between these two teams almost two months ago.
The young Grecians remain fifth in the Youth Alliance South West table following their seventh game, and they'll be hoping to remain in that top half of the standings to ensure they qualify for Merit League One in the New Year.
Exeter City’s Academy Operations & Performance Manager, Arran Pugh: “We started brightly in the first 10 minutes, which was pleasing with it being a derby game. But they scored early on, and from there, Plymouth dominated the game. We talked to the players about the ‘must-haves’ that anyone can do, but we got out-worked and out-competed by them. We gave away three goals in the first half, not through errors, but through a combination of people not being in the right place, and them being clinical. In the second half, we limited them to fewer opportunities, but we made a couple of errors which led to further goals. The scoreline makes it look like a hammering, and although it was a thoroughly deserved win for Plymouth, it probably wasn’t quite that clear-cut. We didn’t create too many chances of our own. But the boys never gave up, and we missed that bravery in our play, and we failed to move the ball forward when the chance was perhaps on.
“There are always learning opportunities from every game. The make-up of the sides were similar, we both had some Under-16s involved, but on the day, they performed better than we did. From my perspective, they showed more of their personality on the ball. One or two showed something, but others didn’t do that, and their overall intensity was higher than ours. The boys will learn from that, and they will realise they have to show their qualities in these kinds of matches.
“We have a home game against Portsmouth next, who are one of the stronger sides in the league. We won’t prepare the boys too differently, but we always want them to maximise their opportunities on the pitch, whether that is in training or games. Some of the squad will be used in the Papa John’s cup tie with Forest Green Rovers, so we’ll want them to use that opportunity to be successful. And then Thursday and Friday we’ll look to prepare them to be better players. Everything they do is leaning towards getting them further in their football careers. They will want to perform better on Saturday, and they always want to win. What we want is for them to stay in that top half of the league so they can qualify for Merit League One in the New Year.
“We spoke about having a disappointing day, obviously losing here and then seeing the first team get beat, but if you look at it more closely, some of the individual performances from the Under-18s were pleasing. And then you see Ed James, at 17-years-old, come on at centre-back, so early in the game, and I’m sure he was nervous, but what an opportunity that was, and he did quite well. For a lad at his age, stepping into League One, what a huge challenge he faced, but he was calm on the ball, made some good passes, was competitive and wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. There are things we can work with him on, but overall, we were delighted with how he played.
“And then seeing Sonny Cox score, I don’t think there are too many scholars who can say they have scored in League One this season, and I am confident that will be the first of many. He’s a talented player, who has scored goals throughout his footballing journey, and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that. He was really positive, and I thought he showed real calm and composure with his goal.
“Seeing those two was really huge for the Academy, and having the Under-16s playing well, there were actually a lot of positives to take from the weekend aside from looking at just the results.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Sam Joce, Scott Simmons, Jacca Cavendish, Aamir Daniels, Alfie Clark, Gabriel Billington, Tom Dean, Alfie Cunningham, Mitch Beardmore, George Spencer
Subs: Jake Richards, Theo Cutler