Exeter City’s under-18s earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw in a competitive match with Yeovil Town at the Cliff Hill Training Ground last Saturday.
It was the visitors that took the lead on 34 minutes when City goalkeeper, Felix Norman, could do nothing about a low shot from the dangerous Glovers striker.
The Devonians fought back in the second period, and they equalised with 20 minutes remaining when a deep corner was headed goalwards by Dan Cullen, before Frank Lovett converted from close range.
Minutes later, Town were given a red card for an off the ball incident, but the home team were unable to take full advantage as Lewis Wilson was also dismissed late on. Despite the incidents, both sides held on to secure the draw, and earn a point apiece in their respective attempts to climb the Youth Alliance standings.
Following their unfortunate loss last weekend, Chad Gribble and his players were hoping for a similar performance, but an upturn in fortunes, against high-flying Yeovil on Saturday.
In blustery conditions, the defences were certainly on top during the opening 15 minutes, with the Grecians’ pressing game causing issues for the away side.
Both teams enjoyed spells of possession, with some slick passing and movement, but carving out chances was much more difficult.
Eventually, the first sight of goal arrived from the visitors 16 minutes in, which kickstarted their players into gear as they began to enjoy more territory with the ball.
The Glovers created a good opening midway through the first half following a neat combination between their left midfielder and forward, however Norman was alert to the situation and stopped the opportunity before any purposeful shot came about.
Town curled a shot just wide, before seeing another strike well dealt with from the Exeter defence as the Yeovil youth team looked the more likely to break the deadlock.
As the game passed the half-hour mark, the game burst into life as both sides traded decent chances at a crucial time in the match.
Jay Stansfield saw a low shot blocked for the hosts following some neat hold up play by Wilson, seconds before Norman produced a great save when he faced one of the away team’s wingers in a one-on-one chance.
Just a minute later, Wilson saw a header saved, before the pressure on the City goal finally resulted in a goal 11 minutes before half-time. An attack down the left saw the visitors’ wide man link up with his target man. The attacker ran onto the through ball and tucked the ball under Norman to put his team in front after a frantic few minutes in the game.
The Glovers, with all of the momentum, looked to double their advantage in the remaining first-half minutes, and Norman had to be in top form again to deny the opposition once more. It was a strong end to the first 45 minutes from Town’s players, and had it not been for some brave defending from Max Clark and Louis Morison just before half-time, blocking a goalbound effort with some desperate lunges, the scoreline may have been different at the interval.
Yeovil continued in the ascendancy after the break, and they saw one effort blocked stubbornly once again by the determined defence of the Devon outfit.
Both teams searched for that important second goal of the game, and they traded half-chances just past the hour mark; Wilson shooting off target for the home side.
The away side failed to take advantage of a defensive error midway through the second half, however, with Gribble resorting to his substitutes’ bench to add some renewed energy to the team, on 70 minutes, his players found a deserved leveller.
After winning themselves a corner on the right-hand side, the Grecians delivered a deep cross towards the far post. Cullen, who had stolen in ahead of his marker and above the goalkeeper, met the ball with his head. The centre-back’s header was eventually touched home by replacement Lovett to make it 1-1.
If the flurry of yellow cards before the equaliser didn’t spice up the contest, the goal certainly did, and with 17 minutes remaining, tempers flared between the two sets of players following an off the ball incident.
Claims of the visitors’ full-back kicking out were acknowledged by the officials, and after a little deliberation, the defender was given his marching orders handing the initiative to Exeter.
Despite handing the numerical advantage to their opponents, arguably the best opening of the second period was fluffed by the Glovers 10 minutes from the end.
With the hosts looking to play out from the back, a short goal kick was quickly snuffed upon by the quick thinking Town captain. With him snatching the ball away and only having Norman in his way, he pulled his shot wide of the post, much to the relief of the City players.
Tempers were still following the earlier Yeovil dismissal, and following plenty of hard challenges and the sheer physical nature of the match, the referee evened up the numbers on 82 minutes. Wilson claimed he was fouled moments earlier, but it was the striker who was sent off following his involvement in the following challenge. The striker evidently still incensed he should have been given a foul seconds before.
With the game now 10-a-side, both teams searched for a late winning goal. Morison hooked a ball goalwards, only to see it cleared from under the away side’s crossbar, whilst James Dodd and Joe Belsten combined smartly in some neat build-up play, which saw the former go close with a header.
The visitors also pushed, and despite hitting the crossbar through an overhit cross in injury time, they were also unable to find a way through once again, meaning the points were shared following a competitive contest between two hungry and determined teams.
Exeter City Under-18s Coach, Chad Gribble said: “We are delighted with the way we have performed here. With players missing due to their call-ups to the under-23s team, as well as those missing through injury, we had a young and inexperienced side who competed well with a team who are towards the top end of the league table, which I am delighted with.
“The biggest thing that pleased me were the habits that the players showed. They were competitive and hardworking, and they applied themselves to the game plan excellently. We knew that if we dropped our levels at any moment that they would punish us for it. I feel we did enough to get the draw and almost win the game.
“I think traits like fight, determination and character can be under-valued in football. Sometimes they can be bigger than tactical understanding, and we had them all in abundance, and displayed them all at every opportunity. Our players are more than capable of sticking and playing to a game plan, but perhaps the fight in them has seen us punching above our weight recently.
“James Dodd was outstanding. He captained the team for the day and led by example in how he organised the players around him, and by the way he worked hard. He ended up playing two positions, both of which he played faultlessly, and he was a big reason why we did so well. Joe Belsten tried to support the players around him and also led by example. Credit has to go to those two second-year scholars for keeping us together at some difficult times.
“Overall, I thought we did enough on the day to deserve the draw, and perhaps win the game. We are disappointed not to be awarded a penalty with a foul on Tom Preece late on, but we’ve put together some decent performances recently, and haven’t got the result we perhaps deserved. The players are upbeat however, and that is down to their mentality. They can see we are on the right track, and hopefully we can put in another good performance again at Newport next time out.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Dan Cullen, Cheick Diabate, Louis Morison, Max Clark, Tom Preece, Alfie Moulden, James Dodd, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson
Subs: Jack Arthur, Callum Brake, Alex Moyse, Ben Chrisene, Frank Lovett
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Yeovil Town on Boxing Day (Wednesday, December 26) in a 1pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.