A look back at a successful yearTHE 2015/2016 season proved to be one full of twists and turns as Exeter City's Under-18s squad enjoyed a largely successful campaign under the watchful eye of Lee Skyrme and Academy Manager Simon Hayward.
City’s youth team experienced many highs and lows, and the long season started back in July, when optimism surrounded the squad and coaching staff ahead of the new competitive season. After a number of productive performances in seven exhibition matches, Lee Skyrme’s men kicked off the Youth Alliance South West division in style, with a 3-1 victory against Yeovil Town.
However, City suffered a string of four league defeats afterwards, as well as a first-round exit in the Youth Alliance Cup. Despite things looking bleak, the young Grecians then pulled together a great run, picking up one draw, four league wins, and a St Luke's Devon Bowl victory in the fixtures that followed.
Inconsistent performances hindered any real climb in the league standings for the Grecians, however the decent showings in the cup competitions pleased Skyrme and the coaching staff, and they took those efforts into their league form towards the end of the year.
Kyle Egan, Toby Down and Jordan Storey all impressed during the team’s upturn in fortunes, with the wins against Newport County AFC and Swindon Town particularly eye-catching, whilst the 1-1 draw with AFC Bournemouth displayed an all-round excellence to the side.
When January arrived, which brought the conclusion to the Youth Alliance fixtures, Exeter found themselves finishing in fourth place in the South West standings. Their top-half finish saw them consequently entered into Merit League One to face the elite Under-18s sides of the southern half of the country.
Skyrme admitted that his team had achieved their goals at the start of the season.
”Ultimately our aim was to be in the top half of the Youth Alliance South West Division, so we could play the better teams in the Merit League," he said. "The team showed steady progress, and we always want to be as competitive as we can. Getting into Merit League One, and progressing far into the cup competitions allowed us to do that.”
After a mid-season break, City’s Under-18s kicked off their Merit League One campaign in February with a 3-0 victory over Cheltenham Town. But much like their start to the regional fixtures, their joy was to be short-lived, as three consecutive defeats meant the Devon outfit found themselves towards the foot of the league standings after just four games.
A 2-2 draw with Southend United halted the run of defeats, though City’s youngsters left Essex disappointed after they let a two-goal lead slip. But they followed up that result with a 2-1 victory against Luton Town, and after recording four points from two games, it helped restore a belief back into the squad.
Skyrme accepted a disappointment in the team’s variety of performances.
“Results are important to us. We use it to help motivate the players to use their best qualities to win us the games, and to aid with the squad’s development. Our performances were inconsistent at times, but despite those inconsistencies, I was still pleased with a number of individuals and the quality of play we did produce at certain times.”
A defeat to an in-form AFC Wimbledon crushed the squad morale at the start of April, but a dominant display against Barnet a week later led to another upturn in fortunes for the Devon club. Despite being in control for much of the game, they could only secure a 1-1 draw with the Bees, before they travelled to Portsmouth for their penultimate game.
With the end of the season on the horizon, even younger talents were being bled into the Under-18s side, with several members of Exeter’s Under-16s earning call-ups to the Under-18s team in preparation for next season.
The new personnel didn’t disrupt the Under-18s' style, and in Hampshire, despite finding themselves two goals down to Pompey at half-time, they perhaps produced their best performance from their Merit League fixtures. The Grecians displayed true character, with their desire and hunger aiding their come back, eventually winning the contest 3-2.
City’s youth side managed to maintain their unbeaten run in their final match, recording a 3-1 win at Gillingham to lift themselves into a respectable sixth placed position at the end of the season.
Skyrme expressed his delight in the finale to the season.
“I thought we played really well in our last three matches." he said. "It was certainly a better finish to the season in terms of consistency, and I feel if we had those levels of performances throughout the Merit League we perhaps would have finished higher in the table.
“I was very happy with the Under-16s who stepped in towards the end of the season. Their age group have been very strong this season and every time they stepped up to the Under-18s, they did very well. I’m really pleased with Ethan Ampadu, Jack Sparkes, Brandon Parsons, Lucas White and Sam Haynes.”
But perhaps the biggest news to come from the youth team this season, came in the shape of four of the Under-18s being offered a professional contract from the club, and the chance to continue their footballing journey with Exeter.
Jordan Storey, Kyle Egan, Nick Grimes and Toby Down were all given pro deals, allowing them to join up with Paul Tisdale and his first-team squad ahead of the 2016/2017 season.
It means that under Lee Skymre’s tutorage, twelve players in all from his Under-18s teams across three seasons have gone on to agree professional contracts. Skyrme acknowledged the hard-working foursome from this year’s squad.
“I’m very pleased for them. For three of them to enter the Under-18s fray late and succeed is testament to their character. I give full credit to them all.”
However in conclusion Skyrme aid tribute to all of the players and staff he had worked with during his time with the Grecians, before he departs for a job with the Football Association this summer.
“I’d like to thank the football club for the opportunity," Skyrme said. "I feel that if I hadn’t been given this job I would not have had the chance with the English FA. My thanks go to them, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to progress as a coach.
“I’d like to thank everyone around me. Academy Manager Simon Hayward, the rest of the Academy staff, the players, and the volunteers for all helping me throughout my time at Exeter.
“I’m certainly proud of the players and people I have worked with. Seeing players go on to build careers is a delight to see, and I shall keep an eye on how they’re doing. But I’m still as proud for even the players who weren’t offered professional deals, as they’ve gone to better things, and are still able to play football at a good standard. Sometimes it’s not about producing just decent players, but producing decent people as well.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and what we’ve tried to do. I hope to leave the Academy in good order, and like to think I have helped it improve in comparison to when I first started here. But I look forward to my new job, and hopefully I will be seeing those players with bright futures at Exeter in my new role in the years to come.”