Exeter City’s under-18s continued their good Youth Alliance League form with a 3-2 victory away at Cheltenham Town last Saturday.
The Robins took the lead after 37 minutes courtesy of a penalty, but just before half-time, Jay Stansfield levelled matters.
A fast start to the second period saw Chad Gribble’s men score on 47 minutes through Will Dean’s spot-kick before the scoreline became 2-2 thanks to another Town penalty.
The Devon club won it in the 53rd minute when James Dodd’s emphatic finish found the top corner, and with the Grecians’ defence stubborn in their approach during the final moments, the away side held on for another important win.
Coming into the contest, the City squad were fully aware of the importance of the fixture with the teams fourth and fifth in the standings before the weekend.
The two sets of players showed how even they were during the opening stages of the game, with both sides enjoying positive moments with the ball as they searched for that significant first goal.
The hosts attempted to play quite direct and put Exeter's players on the back foot. However, centre-back Cheick Diabate, along with his teammates, defended their own box solidly stopping any potential Cheltenham danger.
The opening quarter of the match largely belonged to the home side, and despite taking longer to settle into the game, the visitors did begin to see much better possession after the 25-minute mark. Full-back Joe Belsten began advancing more down the right flank, and his energy proved to be such a threat he was able to provide a number of dangerous crosses from his wing.
But in spite of gaining some momentum during that period of play, it was the Robins who netted the opening goal.
Following a delivery from a wide free-kick, goalkeeper Jack Arthur clashed with a Town player, which the referee adjudged to have been illegal. The debatable spot-kick was converted, handing the initiative to the hosts.
However, like much of the season so far, the goal hardly fazed Gribble’s men, and they fought back with a goal of their own with just a minute remaining in the half.
After working the ball nicely into midfield, the Devonians moved the ball to the right side. Charlie Lawrence picked out Stansfield with a lovely pass, and the forward coolly slotted his volley past the Cheltenham shot-stopper to level the scores.
The Grecians began the second period brightly, and they scored in just the second minute after the restart to completely turn the game on its head.
From kick-off, the away side shifted the ball to around 20 yards from goal. Lewis Wilson squared the ball nicely for Dodd, before the playmaker was bundled over, resulting in the game’s second penalty. Dean’s kick was too good for the home goalkeeper, and it appeared that the momentum was now with Gribble’s players.
However, that proved not to be the case with an equaliser a minute later. A throw-in deep inside the Devon outfit’s half led to a mazy run into their box by one Robins player. He tumbled under a challenge from Dean and Louis Morison, leading to the referee awarding another spot-kick. The attempt was put away, making it 2-2 in just the 48th minute.
In reply, the Grecians put together some neat combinations during a period in the game where they settled down and perhaps enjoyed their best spell of possession. On 53 minutes, Lawrence combined with Dodd, and the latter arrowed home a shot from the edge of the area to score the away side’s third goal to change the scores once again.
The goal really gave the City players belief and they began passing the ball around nicely during another fruitful spell. As a result, substitute Frank Lovett saw two one-on-one chances narrowly miss, as the Exeter team looked to kill off their opponents.
In response, Town tweaked their tactics, and looked to attack in a more direct style, sending more bodies forward in an effort to steal another leveller.
However, the hosts’ efforts were all in vain, as Diabate once again proved to be a rock in the middle of the strong visiting defence. With no more goals conceded, it meant Gribble and his players held on to the priceless victory, with the three points earned here moving them above the Robins, and into fourth position in the Youth Allaince standings.
Exeter City, under-18s coach, Chad Gribble said: “It certainly was an exciting game that had plenty of good chances and big decisions that had to be made. However on the day, I feel we did more than enough to deserve the win.
“No matter how you are a playing, good players find a way to get results. We conceded two soft penalties, but the response from the boys was brilliant, and like it almost didn’t happen in their minds. Off the back of that, we’ve managed to score our three goals and secure the victory.
“During the first 20 minutes of the match, and in the last 15 minutes, we were outstanding in defence. Cheick Diabate dealt with their long balls all day, and Jordan Dyer and Louis Morison also helped out. Alex Moyse did a great job of connecting with the defence, and put in a display that was beyond his years.
“We knew this match was going to be tough. They sat just above us in fourth, and had been on a good run. We knew they would be physical and that we had to stand up to it. We displayed good habits again, which has been our platform for our recent performances, and the players showed they can adjust, adapt, and deal with, whatever the opponents’ throw at us.
“Our next match is against Bristol Rovers in the quarter-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup. Our goal is to continue building that momentum, and put in a performance that will ultimately help us get a positive result.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Louis Morison, Joe Belsten, Alex Moyse, Will Dean, Jay Stansfield, Charlie Lawrence, James Dodd, Lewis Wilson. Subs not used: Felix Norman, Ben Chrisene, Frank Lovett, Callum Brake, Jack Veale