City move up to third in the table with victory
Exeter City under-18s moved up to third in the Merit League One table as they picked up a 2-1 victory over Cambridge United at the Cliff Hill training ground.
The match, on Saturday, March 4, was one of only three games played in the division as adverse weather conditions saw matches at both Luton Town and Bristol Rovers postponed. City’s game was also in doubt and it was only because of the club’s new state-of-the-art 3G pitch that the match took place.
City created much the better chances in the first half and could count themselves unlucky not to be ahead at the break, with goalkeeper Felix Norman having very little to do. Sam Haynes had one of his best games of the season in defence, while Ethan Ampadu, Max Gillard and Sam Haynes also helped restrict Cambridge United to just one effort at goal.
However, it took until the 51st minute for City to take the lead as the lively Jack Sparkes burst into the penalty box and was brought down by a clumsy challenge from a visiting defender. Sparkes stepped up to take the penalty kick and dispatched it superbly.
City continued to dominate proceedings and deservedly made it 2-0 as a ball bounced towards Cameron Hargreaves on the edge of the area and he showed great technique to get over the ball, keep his shot down and fire into the back of the net with 20 minutes to go.
Cambridge did get a lifeline when they pulled a goal back in the 78th minute, but City managed to control the remaining minutes of the match reasonably well to remain unbeaten in three matches of the Merit League One and close the gap on league leaders Stevenage to a point.
Speaking about the game, academy manager Simon Hayward said: “I think it was the best all round performance from the under-18s this season. It was one of a number of games we have played this season where we should have been a lot more comfortable and won by a bigger margin. We conceded late on, but it never really turned into a nervy finish as we were on top.
“The performance started with a very good attitude and approach from the boys. There was a high level of energy and work rate. We had a front-foot mentality and we were competitive and that was the starting point to the good performance. Playing on the 3G surface also helped as it is a perfect surface and that enabled us to pass the ball really nicely and we dominated the ball.
“However, as much as we kept the ball for long periods we had a forward mentality. We were looking to pass forwards and go and create chances and we created those chances at regular intervals and really should have won the game by a much bigger scoreline.”
Picking out some individual displays, Simon added: “Cameron Hargreaves certainly put in an all-action performance. He was very busy and lively and covered a lot of ground.
“Sam Haynes had one of his best games of the season and showed some good one v one defending and a good passing range.
“Will Dean only had a late cameo role, but he is the same under-16 age group as Ethan Ampadu and Jack Sparkes and had a real positive impact on the game when he came on.
“That is the third time in a row, in these three Merit League matches where we are going up against the best sides in the South East, that Will has come off the bench and had a positive impact.
“He is just adding to the competition for places. The likes of Josh Key and Harry Kite have not been back from injuries for that long, Lucas White was unavailable for Saturday but will be back this week and Joe O’Loughlin has been out injured for a while but is on his way back.
“So, the boys are playing well are in good spirits and good form and between some players returning from injury and some under-16s starting to up their game there is competition for places, which is a good thing.”
Exeter City under-18s:Norman; Hartridge, Ampadu, Gillard, Haynes; Smallcombe, Thomas, Sparkes, Collins; Hargreaves, Parsons. Subs used: Key, Kite, Dean.