Exeter City’s under-18s bowed out of round two of the FA Youth Cup on Saturday following a 4-0 defeat away to Stevenage.
The home side started on the front foot, and they managed to break the deadlock after just three minutes to give themselves the early initiative.
The 15-minute mark saw Boro double their lead with a neat finish, before it became 3-0 on 35 minutes with a goal on the counter-attack.
The Hertfordshire club netted their fourth just before half-time to give their opponents a real mountain to climb in the second period, and despite a spirited display from the Grecians after the break, no away goals meant it was the hosts who progressed in the competition.
Following a string of eye-catching displays and positive results recently, Chad Gribble and his young squad travelled eastwards at the weekend in the hope of adding another impressive performance to their run in the FA Youth Cup.
Their opponents, Stevenage, had performed well in the south-east division of the Youth Alliance League, and would be another stern test for City's youngsters.L
Indeed, it was the home team that started proceedings better. Their aggressive nature saw them attack with a quick tempo, and despite the Devon outfit working their way up the field with some possession of their own, it was Boro who scored with a swift break.
Winning the ball back on the edge of their own box, the Hertfordshire side countered with real pace, enabling their forward to get in on the right flank. He found himself one-on-one against Jack Arthur, and the striker dinked the ball over the advancing goalkeeper to give his team a three-minute lead.
It unsettled the visitors, and they became sloppy with the ball in their attempt to build again and find a leveller. It was the hosts that scored the second goal of the game after a quarter of an hour.
With the ball deep inside the Exeter half, the Grecians’ defence failed to clear the ball properly on two occasions, leading to increased Stevenage pressure.
After working the ball to the edge of the penalty area, some neat footwork saw one home player dance his way into some space, before firing low into the bottom corner to double his side’s advantage.
The contest began to settle following that goal, and as a result, some nice sequences from the away team saw them create a few openings to remind their opponents they were still in the contest.
During a fruitful spell, one attack down the left wing saw Jay Stansfield shoot narrowly wide, whilst Joe Belsten proved to be a threat on the opposite side with a number of dangerous crosses from the right.
But despite the positive period from Gribble’s men, it was Boro who scored the important third goal of the match.
Another rapid counter-attack from the South East club saw them turn defence into attack in quick time, and as the striker bore down on Arthur and his goal on the right side, he coolly rounded the shot-stopper and slotted home from a tight angle to give the hosts a three-goal cushion on 35 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Stevenage took full advantage of the number of players they had in attack to score moments before the half-time whistle. A defence-spotting direct ball allowed the home side to get their striker in on goal once again, and his cool finish made it 4-0, giving City plenty to think about at the interval.
However, the Devon side came out fighting in the second half, and displayed some lovely football at times.
A lack of cutting edge in the final third ultimately cost the visitors a goal or two at times, with Stansfield unlucky to see one effort cleared off the line on one occasion, whilst Morgan Cullen came agonisingly close to making contact with Belsten’s dangerous pass.
Exeter used their bench, and the replacements too looked for ways to at least grab a goal for their efforts, however, despite passing the ball well, and nullifying the physical threat Boro possessed, their play in the final third wasn’t enough to break through the hosts’ stubborn backline.
With the four-goal lead intact, thanks to the Grecians unable to find the net, it meant Gribble and his players bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the second round, with the hope the team will be able to learn from this experience and take it into their next league fixture.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “The goals we conceded are disappointing. It’s not like us to not defend our box well. We’ve been quite solid in that during this past month, but at times we committed too many men forward. If you take the goals away from that game and look at the way we played I feel we gave a reasonable account of ourselves.
“We weren’t able to figure out Stevenage until we spoke at half-time, which isn’t like us. If we were able to do that earlier, and we defended better, the game could have looked different. By the time we had solved the problems it was too little, too late. We had a very young team out, but that is not an excuse, as I feel we had more than enough on the pitch to compete. If we look at the overall picture, and identify who is missing, and how much this young side is able to compete on a weekly basis, we can be proud of the players.
“The FA Youth Cup doesn’t make or break a young player’s career. We are disappointed we won’t get another chance of playing in a stadium and in front of a crowd again this season, but the last time we suffered a defeat like this was back towards the start of the season, when we played Portsmouth. That defeat back then spurred us on a good run afterwards, so if we can replicate that, that will be the aim of the guys.
“Our next match is against Oxford United a week Saturday. It gives us a nice time to rebuild. We knew this match was going to be hard, with the number of players that were involved in the under-23s match with Norwich had no rest. But we talked about games coming thick and fast giving us momentum, but there was always going to be one which would’ve been a game too many, and this was it. With two full weeks of training, we now have the time to regroup, and recover, before we get going once again.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Louis Morison, Joe Belsten, Alex Moyse, Nelson Iseguan, Charlie Lawrence, James Dodd, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Jack Veale, Frank Lovett, Max Clark, Morgan Cullen, Callum Brake.