Exeter City’s under-18s suffered their second consecutive defeat in the Youth Alliance South West division with a 4-1 loss to Portsmouth last Saturday.
In what was a fast start for the hosts in Hampshire, three goals in the first 36 minutes for them really put the Grecians on the back foot.
A bright response from the away side saw them score in the 46th-minute, through James Dodd, and they were unlucky not to reduce the deficit further in what was a bright spell for Chad Gribble’s men.
However, the game was sewn up with five minutes remaining, when a fourth Pompey goal killed off any City hopes of a comeback.
The Devon club travelled eastwards in the hope of responding well from the defeat to Cheltenham Town in their previous league fixture.
However, they were second best in the opening exchanges, as the home team took control. The match was just seven minutes old, following a direct ball in behind the Grecians’ defence, a free-kick was given away in a threatening position and Portsmouth opened the scoring from the set-piece.
The away side were struggling to cope and the hosts doubled their advantage on 20 minutes. After a long pass was played into another dangerous area for the Hampshire outfit, they were able to cut the ball back to their tricky winger. He danced inside and curled an effort from 25 yards inside the post to give his team a 2-0 lead.
On 36 minutes, Pompey found the back of the net once again, to establish a comfortable three-goal cushion. City goalkeeper, Felix Norman distributed the ball into his midfield, but they were caught flat-footed as the home team pinched the ball away and mounted another attack. One Portsmouth player was allowed to drive in down the right, and he arrowed a low shot into the far corner leaving Gribble’s men a mountain to climb.
Half-time saw the Devonians alter their strategy in an attempt to fight their way back into the contest. The response was exactly what the visitors were looking for as they pulled a goal back within a minute of the restart.
With intricate passing and a neat pattern to their build-up play, Exeter worked their way into the hosts’ half. Full-back Joe Belsten advanced down the right wing and sent in a dangerous cross which Dodd headed home, giving his side plenty of hope and belief for the rest of the second period.
They were further encouraged that they could come back during the next 10 minutes, in a spell which saw the Grecians completely on the front foot.
The away side came close to a second in a similar chance to their first goal when Belsten and Dodd combined again. However, the Hampshire side had their goalkeeper to thank, as he kept out the forward’s header with a super save.
Gribble’s men were getting plenty of joy down the wings, with Belsten causing plenty of problems. While on the left flank, one instance saw Dodd cross for teammate Harry Gardner, but he was unable to turn the ball home.
Pompey identified the threat that the opposition were posing, and looked to nullify that from the hour mark. They managed to steady the ship as they sat back in and kept their shape, while clearing long meaning City had to restart their advances from all the way back in their own half.
It meant the game settled down, with the action and excitement less frequent than when the second half began. However, the game, did spring back into life as substitute Frank Lovett dribbled his way into the home 18-yard box as the Devon outfit continued to search for a way back into the contest.
As the replacement entered a dangerous position, he had his legs clipped by the opposing defender. Despite the foul, Lovett showed tremendous poise to stay on his feet as he looked for a better opening. Despite the assistant referee flagging for a foul, the referee allowed the attacker to continue on his run, which was ultimately halted, allowing Portsmouth to counter-attack and secure the win with their fourth goal.
Exeter City's under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “It was a really bad start against what was a really mature Portsmouth side. They managed the game well from a strategic point of view, and looked to hurt us in areas where we were perhaps vulnerable.
“Our players weren’t able to solve the problems that were in front of them which is very rare for us. We were a little naïve but at half-time we gave the players a clear basic outline of their responsibilities and made sure they understood their roles.
“There is a good team spirit. We are a young team, but that isn’t an excuse, as we feel comfortable in our age as a team at this level. It means they are put in challenging situations on a weekly basis, but that is what we like to do at this level as it will only develop them and push them towards players for the first team.
“We’ll come back and regroup. The second half showed that things will come good for this side, and that they have certainly got a bit of fight and character about them. Portsmouth are a good side, but we have another tough test against Swindon Town next. The players have worked hard again this week, and I can’t fault their application, but at this level we need a little bit more than just that, and hopefully the guys will show that on Saturday.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Louis Morison, Will Dean, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Jack Arthur, Alex Moyse, Max Clark, Tom Preece, Frank Lovett