Watkins strike downs the SeagullsA first-half strike from Ollie Watkins was enough to earn a win for a young Exeter City team in their final pre-season outing at Weston-super-Mare.
The youngster picked the pocket of a midfielder near the halfway line midway through the first period, skipped past the attentions of his opponents, and produced a devastating finish from the best part of 30 yards.
Weston – under the stewardship of Paul Tisdale’s former Bristol City and Northampton Town teammate Micky Bell – certainly played their share of progressive football through the thirds on a lush playing surface that deserved to have the ball on the deck.
Chances were carved out at either end of the field on a rain-drenched evening, but ultimately Watkins’ second goal of pre-season was the difference.
Former Grecian Jacob Jagger Cane lined up for the Vanarama Conference South side, and City named a team mostly formed of trialists, young professionals and Academy players.
Syd Camper in particular was a nuisance all evening for the hosts, and shot just wide in the early exchanges.
City nearly made the breakthrough as Oli Barnes almost steered a fizzed cross into his own net – mercifully for the Weston defender it fizzed just wide of Dan Jackson’s goal.
However just after the half-hour mark, Watkins – who had begun the game in the left wing-back position – stole the ball from Clayton Fortune in midfield. He exploited the space that opened in front of him in explosive fashion and fired an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner.
Weston almost replied instantly through Camper – however stopper James Hamon was quickly down low to turn the ball around the near post.
Cane missed a golden chance to score against his former side, as he shot beyond the far post after being released down the left by skipper Dayle Grubb.
Half-time: Weston-super-Mare 0 Exeter City 1
The home side enjoyed a particularly decent spell after the break and were showing pace down the flanks. A cross in from the right took a looping deflection towards Jake Harris, but his shot was wayward when he struck the ball as it dropped out of the air.
Watkins – who was now playing up top after a reshuffle – linked well with former Academy teammate Matt Jay and nearly set up the latter for a City second, only for the lobbed effort to be collected coolly by Jackson.
Grubb was within a foot or so of levelling the scores after the Seagulls put together a slick, incisive move down the left flank – however he steered the ball wide of the post as he latched onto a cross.
Weston were certainly posing an attacking threat, but the back three of Christian Ribeiro, Jordan Tillson and Josh Read were coping ably with any challenges – and Hamon was an imposing figure between the sticks.
Jason Pope also had a chance to find the net as a move involving three of the newly recruited pros. Connor Riley-Lowe drove down the left and played Jay into the channel – the forward disguised a neat backheel into the path of midfielder Pope, but his shot was gathered by Jackson.
Ultimately it ended a goal to the good for the Grecians, who got a chance to get more game-time for the youngsters and test players in different positions.
Full-time: Weston-super-Mare 0 Exeter City 1
Weston-super-Mare: Jackson; Dempsey (McClennan), Walker, Barnes, Llewellyn; Fortune, Jagger Cane, Harris, Fiddes (O’Sullivan); Grubb, Camper.
Subs (not used): Jordan, Ash, Teal, Mawford.
Exeter City: Hamon; Dawson (Charles), Ribeiro, Tillson, Read, Watkins (Billingsley); Byrne, Riley-Lowe, Pope; Jay, Saunders (Merritt).
Sub (not used): Keadell.
Referee: Adam Penwell.