City fight back to earn fine draw against Citizens
Exeter City’s under-18 side came from two goals down to earn an excellent 2-2 draw against their counterparts from Man City.
548 fans were in St James Park to witness a great fightback and a thoroughly entertaining spectacle, which will have alerted many to the talent in the City Academy.
The visitors were a goal up at the interval as Connor Riley-Lowe was unlucky to deflect a corner into his own net. Dom McHale doubled the lead in the second half with a neat finish from a tight angle.
But two goals within a minute from Charlie Madden and Joe Charles put the Grecians back on par just minutes from the end, and earned City a superb result against Premier League opposition.
The Grecians’ under-18 squad were by no means overawed by their counterparts from Manchester, and started the game in positive fashion. The fixture was barely three minutes old when Cameron Gill won the ball high up the field and fed Matt Jay, but the shot from out wide was saved by Billy O’Brien at his near post.
Dom McHale was providing the main threat for Man City down the right flank, and after cutting inside from the flank and riding a number of challenges, it needed a firm and decisive tackle by Exeter right-back Hussein Heidari to deny him the chance to shoot.
Unfortunately however it meant for an early exit for the City full-back – he hurt himself in the challenge and was replaced by Scott Townsend.
Ollie Watkins looked to be one of the difference-making players for Exeter, and as he controlled a ball beautifully as it came over his shoulder, he took a touch a fraction too heavy and was dispossessed as he looked to break clear.
Moments later Watkins looked to turn provider as he whipped a cross from the left with his right foot for Gill in the centre, but it just skimmed the striker’s forehead on its way behind.
Watkins was causing the Citizens any number of problems on the inside-left channel and drew a free-kick in a dangerous position as his step-overs mesmerised the defence. Jason Pope was the man to take but it was watched into the arms of O’Brien.
Christy Pym was called upon to make a fine low save from an acute angle midway through the half as Dan Lima went racing clear – the first-year pro got down well to turn it around the post.
One of City’s main traits was winning the ball in packs and looking to break quickly, and after gaining possession on the half-way line, Alex Byrne was unlucky to see a move break down as his slipped ball showed just a shade too much to Angel Tasende who tackled well.
Toby Down, playing an age above his level, was on hand at the other end of the field to put in a fine block as a Man City broke well and tried to cut back from the left-hand byline.
For all their attacking intent and pressure though, the Grecians were the first to concede as Connor Riley-Lowe was the unfortunate party, as a corner from the left hit the City captain on the way past Pym.
City weren’t fazed by going a goal down and kept steaming forward. O’Brien was fortunate to see a Watkins drive fly beyond his far post.
Half-time: Exeter City u18s 0 Man City u18s 1
Pym was forced into action within seconds of the restart as Jack Byrne unleashed a corking effort from distance, and he turned the ball around his post superbly at full stretch.
Nat Oseni was lucky to see his name avoid being marked with ‘o.g.’ after it on the scoresheet, as a cross from the left was deflected off his head and wrong-footed O’Brien – however it just drifted beyond the far post.
But it soon became 2-0 to the visitors as McHale showed a bit of individual brilliant. He slipped clear down the inside-right and sold Pym a dummy with options inside the six-yard box, and slotted in himself.
Alex Byrne tried to reduce the arrears soon after with a cracking drive from range but it was down the goalkeeper’s throat.
Man City started to look the most likely to score again as energy levels looked in favour of the Premier League side.
The Grecians kept heart though and a raking ball towards Watkins saw the striker unlucky as it ricocheted off of Oseni and eventually landed at the feet of the defender.
With time running down, Charlie Madden gave the Grecians a lifeline by stabbing in from close range. Sub Joe Charles had won a freekick right on the byline and the delivery caused chaos – Madden’s header was saved initially but he followed up to pull a goal back.
And within seconds, the scores were level. Charles latched onto a ball spun out to the right and scored an absolute cracker which beat O’Brien at his near post to put the Grecians back level.
Madden was on hand at the other end to make a goal-line clearance as the Citizens tried to sneak a winner after having surrendered a two-goal cushion.
And Watkins was denied late on after skipping inside as his shot had plenty of power but was into the arms of O’Brien, as the game ended all-sqaure.
Full-time: Exeter City under-18s 2 Man City under-18s 2
Exeter City under-18s: Pym; Heidari, Madden, Down, Riley-Lowe; J.Byrne, A.Byrne, Pope; Watkins, Jay, Gill.
Subs: Cairns, Green, Wannell, Billingsley, Charles, Townsend, Richards.
Man City under-18s: O’Brien, Horsfield, Oseni, Oliver, Tasende, Byrne, Samuelson, Bryan, Lima, Boadu, McHale.
Subs: Assiana, Smith-Brown, Intima, Barker, Brooks.
Referee: A. Bennett