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Kick off 11:00 (UK)

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23 March 2024 Venue Unavailable Attendance

Kick off 11:00 (UK)

Exeter City U18
3 - 4
Cambridge United U18
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Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: City 3 Cambridge United 4

Derek Baker reports on the U18s latest match

28 March 2024

Exeter City’s Under-18s were on the wrong end of another seven-goal thriller in a topsy-turvy game at the Cliff Hill Training Ground against Cambridge United U18s on Saturday.

 George Munday opened the scoring for the visitors, while Jahkyah Ebanks-Blake doubled the lead before half-time.
Three City goals in the second half from Kieron Wilson, Harry Crees and Max Edgecombe turned the game on its head, before Munday struck in the 78th minute to set up a grandstand finish.
With both teams pushing for a winner, Randy Bulakio rose highest from a late corner to glance the ball in to give The U’s all three points and leave the Grecians seventh in the league standings.
Following two consecutive defeats in two away trips, Exeter’s youngsters welcomed an in-form Cambridge side to the Westcountry.
The Devonians brought Liam Cartwright back into the starting XI, while Nicky Ajos selected Wilson and Santino Ohanaka with the hope that they could provide some attacking spark on the flanks.
The damp and blustery conditions provided both sets of players an additional challenge as precision and decisiveness were key to unlocking either backline and creating that golden opportunity for an early score.
Home goalkeeper, Dan Layer, was called into action extremely early as he had to rush out of his goal to put an end to a United surge in the opening minute, while the away side were then unable to make the most of a promising position moments later.
While those forays showed The U’s intent in the opening exchanges, City had to wait until the ninth minute before they tested the opposition ‘keeper, as George Birch and Ohanaka combined nicely, which allowed Callum Graham to shoot at goal, but the effort was kept out.
Despite neither team taking full control, Cambridge continued to pose more threats, and they struck first on 10 minutes when a nicely weighted through pass released Munday. The forward’s low strike was too good for Layer and broke the deadlock, much to the delight of his teammates.
In response, Crees sent a header wide from a Grecians corner routine, while up the other end, United created chances with less complexity, as just after the 15-minute mark, they went route one to send another one of their attackers through, but Layer’s brilliant stop with his feet kept it at 1-0.
The quick transitions from the visitors made them look dangerous in attack, and at the midpoint of the first half, they arguably should have doubled their advantage after winning the ball on the left side; the resulting square ball presented a wonderful chance, but the shot was blazed high and wide.
The two sides continued to trade blows, but the best chance fell Exeter’s way when Theo Cutler got the better of the opponent’s offside trap. His cross, however, was played behind the advancing Graham, so no goalbound effort came from it.
Layer was potentially the busier shot-stopper, and twice inside a minute, he denied The U’s with some great athleticism. First came a Cambridge attack down the middle of the pitch, before the resulting effort came through a number of bodies, which Layer blocked with his feet. The goalkeeper then dived down low seconds later when United drifted in from the left to try their luck.
In the 39th minute, Cutler went close again as Wilson located him with an accurate pass, but the attacker’s strike was diverted behind for a corner.
Seconds before the half-time interval, the away team netted again following a charge down the right. Ebanks-Blake managed to get in front of his man, and the striker smashed home to double the advantage at a crucial point of the contest.
In the early moments of the second period, The U’s attempted to extend their lead once again with two chances in as many minutes, however, neither effort was good enough to beat Layer.
The long spells of possession from the Devon outfit finally paid dividends in the 52nd minute when some nice patterns of play allowed Ohanaka to advance down the right. The winger created half a yard of space for himself to float a ball towards the back stick, and on hand, Wilson stole it to send the ball beyond the Cambridge goalie to half the deficit.
All the impetus was with the hosts, and just six minutes later, they deservedly found the equaliser thanks to another pinpoint cross. Edgecombe’s corner delivery found the run of Crees, and he coolly volleyed the ball into the back of the net to level the scores.
While the United reply saw them test Layer just before the hour mark, City’s youngsters remained in control of the contest. Cutler came agonisingly close to adding his name to the scoresheet when he fizzed a strike just off-target, while moments after, Graham had a shot pushed over.
Following a period where both teams turned to their respective benches, opportunities once again started to come at either end; Wilson coming the closest to a third goal for the home team.
Edgecombe fired over from a free-kick on 75 minutes, however, just a few minutes later, the Grecians’ skipper made no mistake with his next set-piece as he let fly from 20 yards to drive an effort straight past the goalkeeper to hand his team the lead for the first time.
But the Devonians’ celebrations were quickly muted as their opponents instantly hit back when they moved the ball from the left into the danger area, and they bundled the ball over the line to make it 3-3.
Both sets of players did their utmost to swing the momentum one last time in their favour, with Graham unfortunate to see his 84th-minute effort smothered.
The visitors managed to bag the victory though with a goal with five minutes remaining after they won themselves a corner. The cross was swung into the six-yard box, before Bulakio evaded his marker and headed the ball home via the upright to break Exeter hearts.
Despite a late rally, the home side were unable to find a way past the stubborn Cambridge backline once again, meaning City came away from a third game in succession with no points, but plenty of promise to take into their next league fixture when they travel to the capital to face Brentford U18s on Friday.
Speaking about the result, Chris McPhee said: “We’ve had a chance to reflect, and look back at the data and footage, and that backed up our feeling that this was a game we had control of and dominated. The whole day was a challenge, with the heavy downpour an hour before kick-off, and the strong winds rather favouring Cambridge’s direct style, but the boys can learn from all of that.
“We had created plenty of chances, so to go in 2-0 down at half-time was disappointing for everyone as we had felt we performed well. The boys executed the plan in possession well, so it was a case of telling them to continue with what they were doing, but to be more clinical. We never felt the scoreline was a mountain to climb, as we had full confidence in the players to turn things around.
“In the second half, we were utilising the wide areas, which provided us with a lot of chances. I thought it was a testament to the boys with the way they approached the second half, particularly with the opposition taking the lead. I thought the players' reaction was excellent, but it ended up being another case where we put in a fantastic performance, but got nothing from it.
“I think it has become more and more apparent that there has been a common theme from a lot of the Academy sides. For the last two or three seasons you have seen lots of teams try and play their way out from the back, but a lot of clubs have now brought in physical and athletic players, and learnt to move the ball forward quickly, so there has been a change of ethos in Academies perhaps all across the country. We will continue with what works for us, as we are a club that believes in what we do, and we try and give our players all the tools we can that will help them go into any team and be able to play.
“This might have been our youngest used squad this season as aside from Max Edgecombe, it was all first-years and schoolboys which is a fantastic positive. This current group are showing some good maturity currently, and with them playing together regularly in the Merit League, against a variety of types of opponent, that will end up being really beneficial for them and their development. But by the end of this season, they should be settled as a group, by the time they go through pre-season for next year, we will be able to continue to push them, and challenge them further.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Dan Layer, Louie Cayless, Liam Cartwright, Max Edgecombe, Liam Oakes, Harry Crees, George Birch, Callum Graham, Santino Ohanaka, Kieron Wilson, Theo Cutler
Subs: Dylan Shanahan, Tobias Alsop, Kye Cooper, Aidan Bown

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