Exeter City’s under-18s made it two wins from two games in the Merit League last weekend, with a 1-0 away win against Luton Town.
Lucas White netted the only goal of the game after 20 minutes, but equally important to the outcome of the game was the way the Grecians’ back-line showed a defensive resolve and managed to keep a clean sheet.
The victory leaves Exeter on six points alongside Swindon Town and Milton Keynes Dons in the Merit League standings in what has become a real competitive competition this season.
And it was that competitive edge that was evident in the visitors’ play, which helped them come away with a victory on Saturday.
City created the first opening through their aggressive pressing. Jack Sparkes applied pressure on the Hatters’ goalkeeper, which resulted in the Devon forward regaining possession of the ball. Despite his best efforts, the half-chance he self-created couldn’t be converted and in the early exchanges the scoreline remained 0-0.
However, just before the midway point of the first period, one moment of magic helped break the deadlock. Harry Kite and Harry Gardner combined down the win before the ball found James Dodd in the centre of the pitch. The playmaker deceived the home defence with a brilliant backheel before White struck home from 14 yards to make it 1-0.
That goal proved to be the only real highlight of a scrappy affair, and when the half-time whistle sounded, the away side were hoping they could maintain their determined spirit after the break.
The match continued with little signs of high-quality football. However, the effort and hard work of the Grecians was still evident in their play with and without the ball.
Town managed to carve out a half-chance, but the hosts’ forward was thwarted by the superb recovery run by Jordan Dyer which nullified the Luton attack.
Exeter were looking to extend their lead, and they came close when White combined with Dodd once again. This time it was the latter who fired a shot towards goal but his shot was saved well by the Hatters’ keeper.
The visitors perhaps came closest to adding to their tally when a corner routine meant the set-piece found its’ way to Josh Hancock in front of goal. The centre-back was unfortunate to see his effort hit the crossbar, and eventually bounce clear of the home team’s goal.
The final 10 minutes saw Town have a lot of possession, but they found breaking Green’s men down extremely difficult. A frustrated home team saw their attacks repelled on numerous occasions, with the half-chances they did manage to create, easily dealt with by City’s defence. The resilience from the away side meant, despite being put under pressure during the final moments, they were able to keep their clean sheet and take another valuable three points back to Devon.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Dan Green: “It was a match that definitely provided some positives to reflect on. We worked hard out of possession and showed we were very competitive. The boys have got to take a lot of credit for that.
“It would have been easy to not track a run or do they wrong thing in certain situations, but the boys managed to keep their concentration throughout the whole game, which helped us, in the end, keep the clean sheet. This match provided a lot of valuable lessons for the squad.
“The most pleasing thing so far is not just the two wins we have got in the Merit League so far, but the way the boys have managed to apply themselves to the matches. I’ve pleased with the mentality that we have displayed during these two games, and if we can continue to do that, then hopefully the results will come off the back of that.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belston, Jordan Dyer, Josh Hancock, Joe O’Loughlin, Will Dean, Harry Kite, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Jack Sparkes, Lucas White. Subs: Lewis Williams, Jack Stafford, Louis Morison, Lewis Wilson, Josh Williams.
Exeter City's under-18s remaining Merit League One fixtures of the season are as follow
Saturday, March 3: Exeter City v Oxford United (11am)
Saturday, March 10: Exeter City v AFC Bournemouth (11am)
Saturday, March 17: Cambridge United v Exeter City (11am)
Saturday, March 24: Exeter City v Stevenage (11am)
Saturday, March 31: Portsmouth v Exeter City (11.30am)
Saturday, April 7: Exeter City v Bristol Rovers (11am)
Saturday, April 14: Milton Keynes Dons v Exeter City (11am)
Saturday, April 21: Southend United v Exeter City (11am)
Saturday, April 28: Exeter City v Swindon Town (11am)