Kieran Wilson’s late goal secured a 2-2 draw for Exeter City’s Under-18s on Saturday when they faced Newport County U18s at the Cliff Hill Training Ground.
Nelson Sanca’s header gave the Welsh club the lead with a thumping header, however, the Grecians restored parity through George Birch’s classy lob just before the break.
Substitute Ryan Shallis curled in County’s second with just nine minutes remaining, however, Wilson’s calm run and finish in the dying minutes meant the points were shared in the relentless rain.
The draw means City remain in eighth position in the Youth Alliance South West division, two points behind the Exiles having played one game less.
The Devonians were looking to bounce back from their Youth Alliance Cup defeat to Sutton United last time out, and they put out a rather young-looking team, with Louis Cayliss, Callum Graham and Chika Ugwumba all selected to start, while Dan Layer began in between the sticks.
Newport were coming into the contest off the back of an impressive 2-1 result against Plymouth Argyle, U18s, but they arguably started on the back foot as the hosts sprayed the ball around rather comfortably.
Exeter’s youngsters looked particularly prominent down the flanks, and after spurning a few half-chances in the opening exchanges, a better opportunity came following good work between Alfie Cunningham and captain Tom Dean. A low cross picked out Birch, and he took aim from 16 yards, but the shot was dragged beyond the far post.
The Grecians continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession and territory, but they were unable to really test Fraser Needham in the visitors’ goal. A high press from Ugwumba saw the winger win possession in the attacking third, before he floated in a cross to the far stick. The centre found Graham, but his first touch let him down, and the chance quickly went before City’s number seven could regain control of the ball and shoot.
The Welshmen began to get a foothold in the match as the clock ticked past the midpoint of the first half. County looked to use set-pieces to carve open their opponent’s backline, and, after 27 minutes, they broke the deadlock from a corner. Layer was unable to deal with the wicked delivery, and Sanca climbed highest to divert his header in from close range.
As both teams looked to score the crucial second goal of the day, the game’s quality in the final third dipped. The Devon outfit looked their most threatening when they harrowed the away defence with real intensity, and that aggressive pressure helped the home side find a leveller moments before the interval.
A short backpass from one Exiles centre-back looked to leave his goalkeeper short as Wilson closed him down with real purpose. The resulting clearance was rushed, and deflected to Birch, and the playmaker showed real composure as he lofted the ball over the stranded shot-stopper and into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Exeter began the second period with a change in goal, as Ollie Saunders replaced Layer. But that substitution didn’t disrupt the Grecians, as they used the momentum they gained from their equaliser to restart the game strongly.
In the 51st minute, City almost netted again from Giulio Marroni let fly from distance. The midfielder’s effort appeared to beat Needham, but the ball crashed against the woodwork before the danger was cleared away.
On the hour mark, the Devonians created another decent opening when Wilson got in behind the defence on the right flank. His pass inside found Birch, but a smart reaction save meant the scores stayed level.
Up the other end, Newport remained in the contest though, and they came close from another set-piece when visiting skipper, Findlay Coleman, headed the ball over from five yards.
The hosts remained the team who looked likeliest to score as the clock ticked into the final 20 minutes. Exeter thought two penalty shouts in the space of as many minutes, however, the officials were quick to dismiss the claims despite the cries from the Grecian players and fans.
With 10 minutes remaining, one of the visitors’ replacements missed a glaring opportunity at the far post following a deep ball into the danger area, however, that proved only to be a warning sign as the Welsh side scored moments later through Ryan Shallis after he cut in from the right and bent a superb strike that dipped just below the crossbar.
As the rain ferocity increased during the final stages, County’s pressure did also, and they were unlucky not to secure the victory when they shot just wide in the 84th minute.
However, City’s players displayed tremendous character as they continued to fight despite the odds and weather against them as the contest headed towards injury time. With minutes remaining, Wilson received the ball down the right, and the forward was able to power into the box and slip the ball inside the near post despite the goalie’s advances to score a dramatic equaliser and send the home supporters into jubilation.
The 2-2 scoreline meant the Devonians secured their first league point since late September, and they will be hoping this will be the springboard they need to put together a run so they can climb the South West standings. Exeter’s youth side are away at Forest Green Rovers U18s this coming Saturday.
Exeter City Under-18s: Dan Layer, Tom Dean, Louis Cayless, Harry Crees, Liam Cartwright, Giulio Marroni, Alfie Cunningham, Callum Graham, George Birch, Kieran Wilson, Chika Ugwumba
Subs: Ollie Saunders, Jude Horn, Aidan Brown, Rohullah Mohammadi, Theo Cutler