Exeter City's under-18s kicked off the 2018/19 season with an impressive 1-0 win over rivals Plymouth Argyle in their first match of the Youth Alliance South West Division.
Coming into the start of the competitive season in good form following a decent pre-season schedule, the young Grecians performed well at both ends of the pitch and were rewarded with a well-earned three points.
Lewis Wilson netted the only goal of the game on 30 minutes when his header from an in-swinging free-kick beat the Argyle goalkeeper.
The Devon derby victory means Chad Gribble’s side start the defence of their Youth Alliance crown in the perfect way and gives the squad plenty to build from for the rest of the season.
Exeter’s youth team travelled down the A38 to face perhaps one of their sternest tests of the campaign in their opening game of the new season.
Despite starting with a young-looking side, the visitors began with a real intent, as they looked composed on the ball and passed it sharply amongst themselves.
The home team were lucky not to concede inside the opening first two minutes, after some neat City play freed James Dodd on the flank. His centre was met by the head of Wilson, whose effort was tipped onto the crossbar by the athletic Pilgrims’ shot-stopper to keep the scoreline goalless.
Despite not scoring from the early chance, it put the away team firmly on the front foot, and they continued to use their positivity to create more openings.
Often, they would pinch the ball in midfield and look for opportunities to counter their opponents, however on a difficult pitch, with the grass perhaps longer than the norm, sliding through the final pass was proving to be a difficult task.
On the half hour mark however, the Grecians did manage to break through and score their first goal of the season.
Dodd won a free-kick on the left wing, which allowed Will Dean to cross the ball into a dangerous area. The delivery was perfect, and Wilson got in front of his marker to glance the ball goal bound. The ball went out of the reach of the Plymouth keeper and ended up in the back of the net to give Gribble’s men a deserved lead.
The goal sprung the hosts into life, however much of their possession untroubled the Exeter backline with a lot of the ball moved around in front of the defence in harmless areas.
During the fruitful Pilgrims’ spell, they often played the ball into their striker, though the visitors’ defence were alert to the dangers it caused, and they defended astutely to prevent any shots on their goal in what was a competitive first period.
City’s youths came out from the interval in a determined mood, and they shifted the momentum back in their favour. The away team were patient in possession and went close on numerous occasions to doubling their lead.
The Grecians carved out some half chances with Dodd becoming a real danger in attack for them. He twice went close, whilst Harry Gardner was menacing by cutting in off his wing and shooting at goal.
It was a decent 20-minute spell for Gribble’s men, but they failed to add to their goal tally, and a change in system from the hosts in a tense final period meant they worked themselves back into the contest and began to threaten an equalising goal.
The direct style caught out the Exeter defence at first, as Argyle created real problems for them initially, however they were able to keep the home team at bay.
Solid defending and maximum effort during the final 10 minutes meant the visitors were able to hang on to their clean sheet, secure the victory, and take home the first three points of the new season back up the A38.
City Under-18s Coach, Chad Gribble, said: “I’m pleased with the performance, because on a difficult pitch, we continued to play how we wanted to. We took the one good chance we had from a set-piece and it’s good to see we scored from that.
“At 1-0, there comes a time when you have to take that and protect the lead, and credit has to go to what was a young side, for seeing out the game.
“We’ve had a lot of different games in our pre-season, and this contest was a lot like our recent matches. It was a difficult game on a difficult pitch, and we knew they would be able to give us different kinds of problems but we were ready for them.
“It was a hot day, but the way we have trained in the heat during the pre-season meant we were able to remain at our maximum throughout the game, so credit has to go to the players for sticking with it.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belston, Jordan Dyer, Jack Stafford, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Will Dean, Tom Preece, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Lewis Wilson
Subs: Jack Arthur, Alex Moyse, Frank Lovett, Ben Chrisene