Exeter City’s under-18s advanced into the semi-finals of the southern section of the Youth Alliance Cup with a 4-3 win on penalties over AFC Bournemouth last Saturday.
The Cat & Fiddle saw two very good footballing teams deadlocked at 2-2 after 90 minutes, with Jack Sparkes and Will Dean finding the target for the hosts.
With the match going straight to the spot-kick shootout following the draw at full-time, Dean, Sparkes, Lucas White and James Dodd all converted their 12-yard attempts to send Dan Green’s side through after a closely fought game.
The contest started with both sides trying to assert themselves in midfield, but in the ninth minute with the first attack of note, the Grecians took the lead.
Dodd collected the ball on the edge of his own penalty box before finding Sparkes. The attacker showed great pace and skill as he dribbled free of the desperate defenders trying to get back to stop the break. He then found himself within shooting range and sent a sumptuous effort from 20 yards in off the inside of the post to make it 1-0 to the home side.
The visitors looked for an instant reply and, just two minutes later, Bournemouth found themselves level. The Dorset outfit worked the ball to the edge of the box, before firing a shot a goal. The ball curled inside the post and into the top corner to restore parity.
It was from that moment when the away side started to enjoy a lot of possession, with the Premier League academy trying their luck from distance as they looked for a second goal.
Despite the Cherries enjoying their brightest spell of the match, City still threatened on the break, and Joel Randall and Sparkes went close on two separate occasions.
However, much of the possession belonged to their opponents, but finding any real chance to test Lewis Williams in the hosts’ goal was proving difficult as Green’s men defended resolutely.
Towards the end of the half, within the space of four minutes, the Dorset club spurned three chances as the teams went in level at the break.
City looked to substitute Josh Hancock for the second half, and they began the second period with real purpose. After Sam Haynes clipped the crossbar with a cross, City perhaps spurned their best chance of the match when a short Bournemouth back-pass saw Brandon Parsons pounce onto the loose ball. The forward however was quickly closed down before he could send any real shot at goal so the score remained level.
On 60 minutes City regained their lead when Sparkes won the ball well in midfield, and slid a nice ball into Dodd, who had advanced into the 18-yard box. The playmaker’s turn deceived the Cherries’ defender, who illegally floored Dodd, leaving the referee little choice but to award a spot-kick. Dean confidently stepped up and gave his team the advantage once again.
However, 10 minutes later, the scores were tied again. In unlucky circumstances, the hosts initially defended an attack down the away side’s left flank. However, the ball ricocheted into the middle of the box, where a Bournemouth player was lurking. The Dorset club’s winger cut inside and finished well to restore parity.
City continued to come forward, and once again looked the likeliest to score the fifth goal of what was an exciting contest.
A team move down the left wing saw Randall link up with Dodd. He fed Josh Key on the opposite side before seeing his effort tipped away from a busy Bournemouth shot-stopper.
At the death, Green might have thought his team had won it when they found a way through in injury time. Sparkes collected a City clearance, before he dribbled into the box. An initial effort was blocked by some desperate defending, before his follow-up was also cleared, resulting in the match ending in a draw after an exciting 90 minutes of entertaining football.
With no extra-time played, the contest went straight to a penalty shoot-out, with the new ABBA format. After one penalty apiece, the scores were tied with Dean scoring his second spot-kick of the game. Both teams converted their second attempts also, with Sparkes on target for the hosts.
After three penalties each, City led 3-2 with White shooting home, however after four kicks, the two sides were level again after Key unluckily missing. But after five efforts though, the Grecians celebrated the win, with Dodd slotting his shot home, helping send City into the southern semi-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup.
Exeter City Under-18s Coach, Dan Green said: “I’m pleased to have progressed. It was a good game between two hard working sides. Bournemouth are an excellent team with an excellent academy so to get past them is pleasing.
“The character shown by the boys has been the foundation for them in the last few matches. There is a real commitment to each other, and the scoreline didn’t affect how the boys stuck together.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Lewis Williams, Sam Haynes, Jordan Dyer, Joe Belston, Will Dean, Mitch Thomas, Joel Randall, James Dodd, Josh Key, Jack Sparkes, Brandon Parsons