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Kick off 12:45 (UK)

09 March 2024 Venue Unavailable Attendance

Kick off 12:45 (UK)

Gillingham U18
4 - 0
Exeter City U18
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Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: Gillingham 4 City 0

Derek Baker reports on a tough afternoon for the Grecians

14 March 2024

Exeter City’s Under-18s suffered a difficult day on the road as Gillingham U18s defeated them 4-0 in Saturday’s Youth Alliance Merit League Two fixture.

With their pre-game preparations severely hampered, the Grecians were unable to find their usual rhythm, and they found themselves a goal down in the first half.

Three further goals for the Gills really compounded City's struggles, leaving the Devon youngsters returning home empty-handed following a long and arduous day.

The result means Exeter’s youngsters sit in mid-table after two games, ahead of their clash with table-toppers, Bristol Rovers U18s, this coming weekend.

Nicky Ajose and his young squad travelled to Kent with the hope that they could build from their victory in the opening round of this season’s Merit League.

However, due to a disruption in the transport that was scheduled to take them to the south east, the Grecians arrived just 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time, and, despite the start understandably put back, the City players only had a quarter of an hour to get up to speed before proceedings began.

The Devon club lined up unchanged from last week’s victory, however, they welcomed back Jude Horn, Santino Ohanaka and George Birch onto their bench.

It was evident, however, that the long journey and build-up took its toll on the Exeter players, which resulted in what became a rather lethargic performance. Despite having the intention to start quickly, and to use their troubles in the morning as a motivator, the away side were untidy on the ball, and Gillingham exposed the Grecians’ frailties.

Within the opening exchanges, there were indications that the contest would be end-to-end as the hosts were able to get in down the wing after just a matter of seconds to put a ball into the danger area, before a quick turnover meant Exeter were on the attack just moments afterwards.

With City unable to take control, the Devonians were arguably defending for longer periods in comparison to their recent performances, and Gillingham were able to make their attacking pressure pay around the 20-minute mark when they broke the deadlock.

Despite a strong reaction to the goal, and some encouraging signs in the final 10 minutes of the first period, the Exeter coaching team at the break spoke to their players about tidying up their technical execution, and operating their press more successfully against the Kent outfit, who were efficient and effective in what they did.

A response from the visitors came in the early moments of the second half, however, a second Gills goal took the wind out of their sails, and gave Gillingham the impetus and confidence they needed to go and get more.

The Grecians did have opportunities to score themselves, however, the likes of Theo Cutler, Tom Dean and Jake Richards weren’t good enough on the day to find a way past a solid home backline and an assured goalkeeper.

That resulted in the goals coming at the other end of the pitch, as the forwards, and replacements, for the Kent side displayed a clinical edge that took the game away from their opponents.

The full-time whistle sounded with the score at 4-0, leaving the City coaches with plenty to reflect on, and have the hope that a response from their team will come next time out against Bristol Rovers U18s.

Exeter City’s Under-18s Assistant Coach, Chris McPhee: “This is a difficult defeat to take, after a 14-hour day. Our transport troubles before the game were just one of those things, and it was something out of our control, but it meant seemingly we were up against it from the off. Those kinds of things will happen in the future careers of our players, so this one has proved to be a good learning opportunity for them all.

“We didn’t really get going in the first half, and, after looking through the data, it showed us we didn’t cover the ground as we normally do. We made a lot of unforced errors, so there are lots of ways we can improve, and it is a big lesson for us to learn from. From the players’ perspective, they are very disappointed, and for us as coaches, it is understanding how we can improve from this.

“Normally, our first half performances have delivered a decent tempo and a sense of control, but because our ball retention was low, and there was a poor execution in our technique, the game became a bit of a to-and-fro contest, and we were always chasing it. The one thing we always ask of our players is that they outwork the opposition, but it was evident the early goal in the second half sapped the energy out of our legs.

“We weren’t able to solve the problems in front of us, and we acknowledge that we were miles from our best, but, with the group, particularly with the younger players, we have to keep them positive through the tough challenges as we look to build for next season. It is clear where we need to improve, but even on our off-days, we need to at least show a bit of grit and determination.”

Exeter City Under-18s: Dylan Shanahan, Louie Cayless, Liam Cartwright, Max Edgecombe, Liam Oakes, Tom Dean, Harry Crees, Jake Richards, Kye Cooper, Callum Graham, Theo Cutler

Subs: Dan Layer, Jude Horn, Santino Ohanaka, George Birch, Kieron Wilson

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