Academy report: Exeter City 1 Newport County 2

Under-18s lose ground Youth Alliance South West division title race

Exeter City’s under-18s lost ground in the Youth Alliance South West division title race after suffering a 2-1 defeat on Saturday to rivals Newport County in a close contest at the Woodbury Park Hotel & Golf Club.

Despite a bright start from the Devon club, it was County who took the lead five minutes before half-time. The Welsh outfit converting a spot-kick to take a 1-0 lead into the break.

A rejuvenated City side came out in the second half with plenty of intent, but they were caught on the break in the 78th minute when Newport’s long range effort lobbed the unfortunate Lewis Williams to make it 2-0.

Seven minutes later, Archie Collins glanced a header home, but it proved to be too late as the Exiles held on to secure a precious victory.

The Grecians came into the match hoping to forget the midweek woes they suffered following their FA Youth Cup exit to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday evening.

They started on the front foot, moving the ball around the pitch effectively, however they were unable to find a clear opening to fire a shot on goal.

Collins was the first player to really test the visiting goalkeeper, but the closest Dan Green’s men came to breaking the deadlock was from a set-play.

After a free-kick was awarded to the hosts on the edge of the County box, Cameron Hargreaves struck a sweet goal-bound effort that crashed off of the crossbar to deny City what would have been a memorable opening goal.

Midway through the first period, the South Wales team grew into the game. After Collins had stung the hands of the Newport shot-stopper, the Welsh started having chances of their own, but Williams seemed relatively untroubled in the home side’s goal.

Good play down the left flank allowed Hargreaves to have another testing effort as the game approached half-time, but in spite of the numerous chances created by the Devon club they conceded the first goal of the game in the 40th minute.

A long throw into the penalty area was initially missed by everyone before the ball bounced up and struck Max Gillard on the arm. Protests were waved away from the referee before the away side tucked away the spot-kick to give the visitors the initiative going into the interval.

The lively looking Hargreaves flashed a volley just past the post in the early stages of the second half before Williams pulled off an outstanding save to keep the score at 1-0 when Newport swiftly moved forward with a counter-attack.

On the hour mark, Green introduced Brandon Parsons and Joel Randall to the action and the duo added more energy to the Grecians’ build-up play.

Despite Williams denying the away team’s golden chance, much of the game was being played in Exiles half, with City hoping to create some holes in the defence with their quick passing and movement.

On 71 minutes, defender Alex Hartridge fired centimetres over from the edge of the box following a goalmouth scramble, before Parsons perhaps had one of his team’s better openings moments later.

Parsons latched on to a long searching ball, and the forward’s touch was sublime as he tried to dribble around the opposition goalkeeper. The ‘keeper, with the aid of his defender, scrambled the ball away to fellow Exeter substitute Lucas White, but he failed to find a clear chance to shoot towards goal, leading to another escape for the Exiles.

The hosts cleverly worked themselves another opening with a short-corner routine. Collins got himself to the byline, and his cut back to Hartridge only led to another desperate block from the away side.

For all of their possession and territory, the spurned chances proved to be costly. Just four minutes later, the Welsh team doubled their lead.

Counter-attacking once again following another City advance, Newport came forward with numbers seemingly not in their favour. However as the County midfielder passed the halfway line, he dribbled further into the home team’s half, before sending a lobbed effort over the stranded Williams and into the goal to make it 0-2.

There was still time for Green’s men, but it was against them as the clock continued to tick down. The Devon youngsters continued their intricate passing game in search for an opening, and in one passage, it led to a free-kick deep inside the County half.

Captain Max Smallcombe stood over the free-kick and his whipped delivery was glanced in by Collins, who rose highest, to half the deficit with five minutes remaining.

For all the belief that ran through the Exeter team the remaining efforts were to no avail as Newport held on to what may prove to be a vital victory in the last match before the Christmas break.

City under-18s return to action in January to play their remaining league fixtures, with the hope they can still finish towards the top of the standings after all the matches have been played.

Exeter City under-18s: Lewis Williams, Alex Hartridge, Sam Haynes, Max Gillard, Harry Kite, Mitch Thomas, Josh Key, Max Smallcombe, Cameron Hargreaves, Archie Collins, Ben Seymour. Subs: Joel Randall, Brandon Parsons, Lucas White.