Academy report: Exeter City 2 AFC Bournemouth 1

Jack Sparkes and Ben Seymour on target in home win

Exeter City under-18s came up with the perfect response to last week’s defeat to Swindon Town, with a 2-1 victory at home to AFC Bournemouth on Saturday.

Goals from Jack Sparkes and Ben Seymour put the hosts on the front foot in the first half and they might’ve comfortably rounded off the performance if it wasn’t for some missed opportunities after half-time.

However, the Dorset side came back at City and they eventually grabbed a goal of their own with three minutes remaining to set up a tense finish for the Grecians. The home side managed to hold their nerve though and grab a precious win to remain top of the Youth Alliance South West division standings.

Following the team’s first defeat in five league matches - a 3-1 loss away to Swindon - a good response was almost imperative if Dan Green and his squad wanted to remain in a good position to challenge for the league title.

After a hard week of training, Exeter’s youngsters walked out on home soil for the first time since August following the construction work at the Cliff Hill training ground during the past few months.

The Devon outfit started the game brightly, but in contrast to previous weeks, they didn’t see as much of the ball and they were happy to defend against a decent Bournemouth side.

The home team defended with a good shape, not allowing their opponents much space in some dangerous positions, with Max Gillard, Alex Hartridge and Sam Haynes starting at the heart of a disciplined defence.

Just seven minutes had been played when the first goal arrived, courtesy of some good play from the City midfield.

Mitch Thomas linked up with Sparkes, and the latter cut inside from the wing to bend in a beautiful effort inside of the post and give the Grecians a perfect start.

Between the two sides, there weren’t many chances for a second goal in the contest, but from what Green’s men could create, they proved to be deadly with their finishing, as Seymour made it 2-0 before half-time.

The striker took advantage of some loose defending to cut inside from the left-hand flank, and his low effort beat the Cherries’ goalkeeper to give the Devonians a two-goal cushion going into the break.

The second half saw the hosts continue their strong defensive display, with the team lining up in a solid shape repelling any Bournemouth pressure that was applied on to them.

Exeter were unlucky not to add to their lead and wrap up the result when both Archie Collins and the lively looking Seymour squandered decent opportunities. The latter perhaps coming the closest when his lobbed effort just missed following some terrific skill from the striker.

Substitute Joel Randell couldn’t take his chance when City carved open another great opening, and the home side were made to pay for their missed opportunities when the visitors halved the deficit on 87 minutes.

Some sloppy defending from a set-piece allowed a far post header to creep into Lewis Williams’ goal, setting up a few nervous moments during the final few minutes.

However, when the full-time whistle did blow, the score did remain at 2-1 which meant the young Grecians stayed top of the table.

Exeter City Under-18s coach Dan Green, said: “It wasn’t quite the complete performance, but the team were good out of possession. We were good apart from giving the ball away too easily at times and had we been better and taken our chances it would’ve been the perfect game.

“Sometimes it is difficult to have both sides of a complete performance when you have seen less of the ball, but I am happy and it is nice to know we go into Friday’s game against MK Dons off the back of a win.

“It’s always pleasing having players come back in after injury and I’m happy for Lewis Williams and Cameron Hargreaves. The more players we have pushing for our starting eleven the better, because I want players to be disappointed when they are left out.

“Max Smallcombe and Mitch Thomas were both excellent. They were mature in their approach and they were regularly solid, performing the duties that were not necessarily the beautiful parts of the game. That was pleasing to see.

“But overall it was a good performance and the win has given us more habits that we can continue doing. The real difference is we got a lot of 7.5 performances this week from the team which has provided us with a good platform to build on."

Exeter City under 18s: Lewis Williams, Alex Hartridge, Sam Haynes, Max Gillard, Jack Sparkes, Mitch Thomas, Josh Key, Max Smallcombe, Cameron Hargreaves, Archie Collins, Ben Seymour. Subs: Joe O’Loughlin, Charlie Skilton, Joel Randall, Brandon Parsons, Harry Kite