Exeter City’s under-18s got back to winning ways when they recorded a 2-1 home victory over Forest Green Rovers last weekend.
A fantastic team goal saw the Grecians take the lead on 30 minutes when the ball was spread out to the right-hand side. Tom Preece headed home a Joe Belsten cross to give the hosts the breakthrough.
Will Dean saw a penalty saved for Exeter on the hour mark, however, from the resulting corner, the same player rose highest to head in the Devon club’s second goal.
Rovers found a way back into the contest with a long-range effort on 80 minutes to set up a nervy finish, however the stubborn hosts’ defence repelled any further attacks from their opponents, to record their first victory in four matches.
Following a two-week break from competitive action, ECFC under-18s coach Chad Gribble was looking for a positive performance and result after seeing his team slip down the Youth Alliance standings thanks to three consecutive defeats.
The visitors sat above City in the table coming into the contest, but a win for either side would solidify their mid-table position as the teams approach the mid-way point of the initial Youth Alliance fixtures for the south west.
The home team started quite well, however a lot of the early pressure came from Forest Green’s direct football.
The Grecians defended their own penalty box well, and slowly built some momentum as they crept into the game. The hosts got the ball down and played to their own strengths at the right times, often counter-attacking off the back of winning back possession from their opponents.
It was a complete contrast of styles during the opening quarter of the game, but the Grecians had to remain patient as they didn’t carve out a clear-cut chance until 30-minutes.
After another attack from the away side broke down, the hosts tidied the ball up and built up possession and momentum from their own half. After stringing passes into midfield together, they worked the ball out to the right flank, where Belsten found himself in some space. The full-back delivered a delicious ball into a dangerous area, and Preece was able to get his head onto the ball first to send the it past the outstretched goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
After the goal, Exeter began to enjoy more of the ball, and they created two half-chances for Harry Gardner during the latter stages of the half. The winger’s efforts were fired off-target as his team continued to apply pressure on the Rovers goal up until the interval, however the scoreline remained at 1-0.
The start of the second 45 minutes belonged to the visitors. Again attacking in a physical and direct manner, they committed more men forward as they looked for a leveller during a bright 15-minute spell. The Devon club defended solidly, putting in smart blocks and tackles and keeping their opponents at bay.
With the intentions of breaking quickly after winning possession back, Gribble’s men indirectly doubled their lead from a smart breakaway just past the hour mark.
Following another attack down the right wing, a pass inside was inadvertently handled by a Forest Green player inside the 18-yard box, leaving the referee little choice but award a spot-kick.
Dean stepped up for his team, but the usually prolific penalty taker saw his attempt tipped round for a corner keeping it at 1-0.
The kick was soon forgotten about, though, as the scoreline became 2-0 from the following set-play. Following the inswinging corner, Dean got in front of his defender to head home, and double City's lead.
As a result of the goal, the away side made changes and brought on another attacker to apply more pressure on to the Grecians’ defence.
Another target man for the Rovers players to play off gave the hosts a different problem to solve, and they were able to soak up the pressure up until the 80th minute, when that pressure finally led to a goal.
After the visitors played the ball out wide, a Forest Green midfielder danced his way inside before unleashing a strike from near 40 yards. The shot flew past Felix Norman in the City goal, setting up a testing final 10 minutes for Gribble and his players.
With the sole intention of protecting their lead, the Grecians kept out their opponents and managed the game well to hold onto the 2-1 scoreline.
It does mean the hosts were able to secure their first three points since their 3-2 triumph against AFC Bournemouth last month, climb above Rovers in the league standings, and reap the rewards their performance deserved.
Exeter City Under-18s Coach, Chad Gribble: “I’m delighted with the players for two main reasons. Firstly, we have recently had results go against us when the performances have been quite good, so to win this time was pleasing, and secondly, to win against that type of team was good for us. People might have thought we have looked vulnerable against that kind of style, but we did an excellent job, and this week saw us play with more maturity.
“Their goal came from a moment of brilliance, but I thought they never got in behind our defence during the game. I liked how we were tested in the final 10 minutes, and we had to show our fight and character to get through it. We played some fantastic stuff ourselves at times, but the questions at the end were whether we could show that other side to our game, and I thought we did here.
“The whole group were brilliant. I thought Jordan Dyer and Will Dean were instrumental and they helped the younger players during the testing times. They both showed real leadership qualities, and they kept us together when we needed to be. But certainly, everyone played their own part in getting us that victory.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Jordan Dyer, Louis Morison, Will Dean Tom Preece, Max Clark, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson