Double from Jack Sparkes sees Grecians through to final against Tranmere Rovers
UNDER-16s: SOUTHEND UNITED 1 EXETER CITY 2
Exeter City under-16s have secured a place in the National Football League final following a 2-1 victory against Southend United.
City started the match brightly as Jordan Dyer went close and then Jack Sparkes won and had a penalty saved before Ethan Ampadu had a goalbound shot cleared off the line.
The Grecians were made to pay for not taking those chances though as Southend scored a goal on the counter-attack.
It was then the under-16s faced a similar problem to the one they encountered against Bristol Rovers in the South West midweek floodlit cup final the week before as Southend sat in and defended in numbers.
However, City remained composed and a switch in formations 15 minutes into the second half led to Chad Gribble’s team committing more bodies forward. City’s patience and analytical approach was then rewarded when Sparkes converted a one-on-one chance on 70 minutes.
As full-time approached City continued to attack, and they managed to turn the game around when Sparkes cut in from the right and squeezed a shot home to win.
City’s victory will see them play Tranmere Rovers in the National Football League final at Derby County’s training ground on February 12.
Academy manager Simon Hayward, said: “The perseverance the under-16s showed was fantastic. We would’ve liked to have won both of the recent cup games, but both have provided the players with great experience.
“Chad Gribble has done a very good job with the squad, and he is another young and promising coach developing nicely which is good for also our academy.”
The 2-1 victory over Southend United came on the back of a 2-1 loss to Bristol Rovers in the final of the South West midweek floodlit cup on Friday, January 13.
The under-16s started that game brightly and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty in the opening minute when three of their players got pulled down in the area trying to get on the end of an attacking free-kick.
However, the Grecians opened the scoring in the 15th minute as Jordan Dyer won a near post header from a corner and forced the Bristol keeper into a diving save. Morgan Cullen did well to keep the ball alive as it bounced off the crossbar and that allowed Josh Williams to fire home from close range.
However, Rovers stuck to their game plan well after that as they defended in numbers and looked to hit the Grecians on the counter.
That reaped its rewards just before half-time with the equaliser. As the match went on the City youngsters become more and more frustrated at their inability to break a resolute Bristol defence down and the visitors managed to get another goal on the counter in the second half to win the match.
“It was just one of those nights were the ball didn’t fall our way and you have to give credit to Bristol Rovers,” said academy manager Simon Hayward. “Their coaching staff came up with a tactical game plan and put it into action. They ultimately deserved to win and it was a perfect lesson for our boys.
“It was the reason I wanted that tournament to take place. I wanted them to experience the pressure of a knockout tournament, under floodlights in front of a crowd, and it is great that they have had that experience prior to next season and playing in the FA Youth Cup.”
Simon Hayward also thanked the City supporters for supporting the team at Axminster with around 400 Grecians making the trip to cheer the young side.