Exeter City’s Under-18s narrowly lost to Newport County last Saturday with the Welsh outfit running out 2-1 winners in a close encounter.
Despite conceding the opening goal on the half-hour mark, City searched for an equaliser with Ben Seymour leading the line, with the support coming from Cameron Hargreaves and Jack Sparkes.
However, it was defender Max Gillard who scrambled the ball home in the second half, drawing the teams level before the hosts snatched a winner with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Dan Green’s men travelled to Wales with a number of key individuals missing from their match-day squad. Ethan Ampadu was given an extended rest period, whilst captain Max Smallcombe was absent from the midfield. The changes in the side meant Green gave a first under-18s start of the season to Sparkes, who has already impressed for Exeter City under-16s this year.
In a fairly even start, both teams traded efforts, however clear-cut openings were hard to come by as both defences remained tight and solid in the early stages.
The away side perhaps enjoyed more of the territory and possession and their biggest threat came from Sparkes’ flank, with the youngster providing menacing crosses for his fellow forwards, as well as having one shot saved by the Newport goalkeeper.
But despite some of the positive play in the attacking third, the Grecians conceded the first goal on 30 minutes.
After a long throw came into the penalty box, the visitors’ clearance only reached the edge of the area, and the clean strike from the County player took a slight deflection from Harry Kite to send it towards the top corner. Exeter keeper, Tommy Easterbrook, got a hand to the shot, however it wasn’t enough as it crept inside the post to give the home team the lead.
Green’s side went into half-time with the one-goal deficit, but he inspired his team with his words at the interval, with the Devon club rejuvenated and restoring parity 15 minutes into the second period.
After a City corner, the ball found it’s way to Gillard’s feet, and the centre-back had enough composure to place the ball into the bottom corner from 10-yards to deservedly get his team back onto level terms.
However, it didn’t remain 1-1 for long, because Newport retook the lead just 10 minutes later. A switch of play allowed their right-back to swing in a deep cross. The ball was headed home at the far post to make it 2-1 to the home team.
Despite Green making substitutions to find a way back into the game, with Lucas White, Mitch Thomas and Brandon Parsons all coming on to spur new life into the game, they weren’t able to help Exeter find a second goal, as the clock counted down to full-time.
The 2-1 loss means the young Grecians have now suffered their third defeat of the season, however, with no game scheduled for this weekend Green is hopeful of getting his side fully prepared for their next fixture, the Devon Derby against Plymouth Argyle, taking place on Friday, October 7.
City's academy manager, Simon Hayward said: “It’s a disappointing result. We felt it was a pretty even first half, and when we got the equaliser we had the feeling that we had enough to go on and win the game from there.
“At half-time the boys felt we were doing ok, but that wasn’t enough. There were a lot of performances that were six and seven’s out of 10, but we know that they can be better than that. Everyone needs to find five or ten per cent more, and if we do that than maybe we can prevent the goals we have conceded from going in.
“We had an attacking intent, and we enjoyed more of the possession but we didn’t pass the ball well and it wasn’t us at our best today. The Newport strikers showed a good pace and tempo, whilst Jack Sparkes was our biggest goal threat, but no one really stood out for us today.
“The fine margins are making a difference right now, and if the guys can find that little bit extra, then maybe we can get it right against Plymouth next time out.”
Exeter City under-18s: Tommy Easterbrook, Alex Hartridge, Max Gillard, Sam Haynes, Joe O’Loughlin, Joel Randell, Harry Kite, Archie Collins, Cameron Hargreaves, Jack Sparkes, Ben Seymour. Subs: Lucas White, Brandon Parsons, Mitch Thomas, Josh Hancock, Arnie Kingman