Under-18s: MK Dons 1 City 5

Exeter City’s under-18s continued their good form in this season’s Merit League with a 5-1 victory away at Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

In a frantic start, James Dodd gave Exeter the lead after just three minutes, with the away side doubling their tally moments later when Jack Sparkes netted when put through. 

Harry Gardner netted a third for the Grecians on 21 minutes, before the hosts gained some belief by pulling a goal back not long after half-time.

Sparkes re-established his team’s three-goal advantage with an effort not long after, before completing his hat-trick midway through the second half.  

Despite a day trip eastwards, the Devon club arrived in Milton Keynes in high spirits, climbing to the summit to the Merit League One standings, having picked up 10 points from their previous four matches. 

Facing a tricky opponent in the Dons, who sat in mid-table before kick-off, the visitors got on the front-foot early, establishing control of the midfield and taking a lead just three minutes into the contest. 

The high intensity in their play was evident as Sparkes took a quick throw-in to Dodd. The playmaker latched onto the ball before dribbling to the edge of the penalty area and looping the ball over the stranded goalkeeper to give his side the early lead. 

It was obvious that City’s players had settled the better during the opening exchanges, and they took full advantage of that by scoring a second goal just a few minutes later. 

Harry Gardner broke away from midfield before sliding a through ball into the path of the in-form Sparkes. The forward showed no hesitation in punishing the home defence by firing the ball into the back of the net to score his first of the afternoon. 

Dan Green’s side continued to control proceedings, and halfway through the first 45 minutes, they managed to convert once more to really stamp their authority on the game. 

Following a competitive period of play, Gardner reacted first to a loose ball before driving at the opposition defence. The midfielder then curled a beautiful effort home from 25 yards to give Exeter a well-deserved three-goal cushion. 

The away side were unfortunate not to extend their lead not long after following a contentious call form the officials. What looked like a perfectly good Grecians goal was this time disallowed for offside after some neat build-up play, and a cross from what looked like the byline. 

However, despite the setback, the Devon outfit took their comfortable margin into the break, with the hope that they could continue their domination after the restart. 

But in spite of being second-best for much of the first half, it was MK who perhaps started the second period the brightest, as they increased their work rate and performance levels, catching the visitors a little cold. 

Milton Keynes reduced the deficit five minutes after the interval when they punished their opponents by stealing the ball in the middle of the park before breaking quickly. A handy cross was netted with precision to bring the hosts back into the match. 

However, despite the Dons netting the fourth goal of the contest, Sparkes was quick to extinguish any hope the home side may have gained from their effort by scoring his second, and City’s fourth, moments later to restore the three-goal advantage. 

It put Green’s men firmly back in the driving seat of the match once again, and they sealed their victory midway through the second period through a well worked free-kick routine. 

The dangerous duo of Dodd and Sparkes combined yet again, resulting in the latter finishing emphatically to secure his hat-trick and making the score 5-1. 

The commanding result keeps Exeter’s youth side on their tremendous run, with only two Merit League One fixtures remaining. 

The staff and players will all be hoping to finish the season strongly, with the hope that they can come away with another positive performance this weekend, in what will be another difficult test for the young Grecians when they travel to Southend United. 

Exeter City under-18s coach, Dan Green, said: “I’m really pleased with the boys. They really got on the front foot early with a fast start, and it really set the tone of our performance with some quick-fire goals. 

“I thought the boys conducted themselves well in the whole. They did everything properly, were professional in what was asked of them, and that resulted in the goals that we scored. 

“Our next game is another tough fixture. Southend United are right up there in the league table. We will be doing everything we can to take this performance into that game.” 

Exeter City under-18s: Lewis Williams, Joe Belston, Tyreece Robinson, Josh Hancock, Jack Stafford, Joe O’Loughlin, Will Dean, Harry Kite, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Jack Sparkes. Subs: Felix Norman, Cheick Diabate, Louis Morison