Exeter City’s under-18s suffered their third consecutive Youth Alliance league defeat after a 2-1 loss to Swindon Town on Saturday.
In an evenly matched first half, the Robins took the lead just before the interval when the hosts’ defence conceded a penalty. The away side double their lead in the 53rd minute when the Town striker struck home once again, before the Grecians found a way back into the contest themselves with a header from Jordan Dyer.
Chad Gribble’s men returned to the Cliff Hill training ground hoping to bounce back from last week’s defeat in Portsmouth. They faced a Swindon side who were pointless coming into the contest but, during the opening exchanges, it was evident they didn’t possess a lack of ability on the ball.
The visitors displayed their intent early on when they sent a header wide of goal from their forward with just two minutes on the clock.
Lewis Wilson glanced a header off-target in reply, but most of the possession and territory belonged to the Wiltshire outfit during the first quarter of the game.
The Robins twice went close in quick succession when they sent a low free-kick past the post, before counter-attacking ending with their winger shooting wide.
The home side though grew into the contest and conjured up the best chance of the match when James Dodd combined with Wilson. The latter latched onto a through ball before shooting high, which the goalkeeper did well to tip around the post.
Afterwards, Harry Gardner and Dodd both saw efforts fly over the crossbar, but the defining moment of the first half came on 37 minutes.
Following an attempt to play from the back, the away side quickly put their opponents in trouble and stole the ball. The City defence were always on the back foot once they gave the ball away, and despite Felix Norman saving marvellously well from the initial Town shot, the scrambling defence gave away a penalty when a desperate lunge illegally stopped a Swindon player. The spot-kick was coolly slotted away to give Swindon a one-goal advantage going into half-time.
If the first goal was crucial in this contest, the second was perhaps even more significant. Just eight minutes after the restart the visitors netted again with another soft goal from the Grecians’ point of view.
Following a cross from deep, the Wiltshire club managed to win the first aerial duel towards the far post sending the ball back across the 18-yard box. The ball beat Norman in the hosts’ goal, and fell kindly for the Robins attacker, allowing him to double his tally with a simple tap-in.
Despite the away side scoring, the goal helped galvanise the Exeter players and they went straight up the other end with an attacking intent.
Max Clark sent a dangerous centre across the face of the goal, whilst Will Dean had a decent chance on 64 minutes when his free-kick was deflected wide by the opposition wall.
However, from the resulting corner, the Devon side found a way back into the game. Dodd’s outswinging delivery was met by Dyer, who got away from his marker superbly to nod the ball into the bottom corner.
The momentum was completed with Gribble’s men, and his team continued to come forward with renewed energy, helped by the introduction of Tom Preece and Jay Stansfield off the bench.
Stansfield was inches away from grabbing his team a leveller when Preece sent Gardner down the right flank, and his dangerous low ball into the penalty area was just too far ahead of the substitute.
Both sides traded half-chances as the match opened up slightly, however it was the home team that carried the more threat and asked more questions as the game approached the final five minutes.
Stansfield saw a tame effort comfortably saved by the Town goalkeeper, before Dean dragged a shot wide as the clock ticked down.
Swindon remained however solid enough in defensive during a long period of injury time to remain in front, inflict defeat on a very unlucky City team, and collect their first points of the season.
Exeter City under-18s coach Chad Gribble, said: “Despite the defeat, we were quite pleased with the performance. I thought we dealt with their direct play well, and we figured out a way to play and to get on top of the game. We created some good chances at the end of the first half, but made a sloppy mistake for their first goal. However, overall it was definitely an improvement from last weekend.
“We are a team that want to play football, but the players need to understand that there are certain scenarios when we have to play differently. We had two opportunities to do that in the lead up to their first goal, and in desperation we have given a penalty away. But after the Portsmouth match we learnt some lessons, and here things were much better. We played to a strategy which was our aim this week, but there are more lessons here which the players can learn from.
“I honestly believe that if we cut out our sloppy mistakes, we have done more than enough to win the game here. The players have to realise you don’t get many chances in this league, so ultimately we have to be better at both ends of the pitch.
"Swindon came into the game without any points and I think an early goal might’ve spoilt their performance and put them under pressure. Lewis Wilson’s first-half chance is a big one, and the goalkeeper has made a good save, but he’s a good finisher and he and the team will keep going because we used the ball well, and if we continue to do that then we will keep creating good chances for ourselves.
“I always thought we didn’t look like conceding, and if we did, despite Swindon being a good side, I thought it would be off the back of our own mistakes. We always looked like we would create chances, and that was from our good play. After the game, I would say I was more upbeat than the players, but we had a chat, and they left a little happier because they realised that if we play like that again when we meet them in the Youth Alliance Cup next time, then we have a good chance of getting the right result.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Louis Morison, Will Dean, Max Clark, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Jack Arthur, Callum Brake, Ben Chrisene, Tom Preece, Jay Stansfield
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, March 2 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.