Exeter City lost their first away match of the Youth Alliance South West division 2-1 to Oxford United on Saturday.
Two uncharacteristic errors cost the Grecians in the first half and although they did pull a goal back and hit the crossbar after the break they were unable to find an equaliser.
In an even opening 10 minutes to the game, the windy conditions proved to be a factor in the way both sides set up. Despite playing against the breeze Chad Gribble’s men settled themselves on the ball early on, playing with the football on the floor and showing good movement in between the middle and attacking thirds.
United attempted to utilise their wingers and target man and just before the midway point of the first period, the breakthrough did arrive. Possession for the Grecians went back to Jack Arthur, but the goalkeeper hesitated on the ball for too long and the Oxford striker stole possession before slotting home.
The goal didn’t affect the Devon outfit though as they continued to dominate much of the possession. Twice they came within inches of grabbing a leveler as Charlie Lawrence’s cross just drifted away from Cheick Diabate who was ready to head home, before Lewis Wilson’s pass evaded Lawrence when the midfielder was ready to shoot.
The chances looked to be going just City's way, but it was Oxford who netted the second goal of the game in the moments before half-time.
Following Arthur’s save from an initial United effort, a breakdown in communication between the keeper and Diabate resulted in them giving them away a back pass, and an indirect free-kick being awarded inside the Exeter penalty area. A short touch followed by a powerful effort led to the ball flying into the back of the net, and the Us taking a two-goal cushion into the break.
After the restart, the hosts used their advantage to continue their attacking momentum as they looked to kill off their opponents and seal the victory with a third goal.
However, Gribble’s players soon settled and they enjoyed plenty of possession during a commanding second-half performance.
In the 60th minute, they managed to halve the deficit as Diabate played a perfectly weighted pass into the right-hand channel to Lawrence and the winger skipped free of the opposing defender before whipping in a low cross, where Wilson got to the ball ahead of his marker to divert it into the back of the net.
The goal gave the away team real belief, and they continued to come forward. Nelson Iseguan threatened for the Grecians on the left flank, and the midfielder saw several long passes trouble the home defence.
The closest the Devonians came to levelling the scores came with 20 minutes remaining. Lawrence cut inside and unleashed a shot from distance, but the effort struck the top of the crossbar, before bouncing clear to safety, much to the relief of the hosts.
It meant that City returned to the Westcountry empty-handed, despite controlling much of the possession and territory. However, in a match that provided many learning opportunities, they will be hoping to return to winning ways next weekend when they face Bristol Rovers at home.
Exeter City Under-18s Coach, Chad Gribble, said: “It was a frustrating game to be a part of and I really felt for the players. We did dominate proceedings. We looked in control and looked like we had found routes to their goal, but individual errors just put us on the back foot.
“Aside from the mistakes, it was a really good performance. I think they had only three other shots that came on the counter-attack, when we were unable to make the ball stick at the top end of the pitch. If we could’ve got to half-time in a position where we would have had the wind in the second half, we could have built on the possession and territory we had.
“We didn’t start slow. The first 20 minutes ebbed and flowed, but we played good football in those opening stages. Last week we let Newport dominate some of the play, but here we passed the ball well and created chances.
“You can’t account for individual errors. Matches aren’t just black and white, they aren’t scripted, but what we did do well in, were the parts of the game that are structured.
“The aim now is to tighten things up. Good teams will punish you for your mistakes and conceding three goals down to errors in our first two games shows a lack of maturity and communication in our squad. I feel if we can achieve high levels of concentration and communication to our game, then that will see us keep clean sheets, which in turn will give us a good platform to build a performance and get a result from.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Max Clarke, Louis Morison, Ben Chrisene, Nelson Iseguan, Charlie Lawrence, Jack Veale, Lewis Wilson. Subs not used: Subs: Alex Moyse, Trialist 1, Trialist 2
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Tickets for City's match against Mansfield Town are on sale at advance prices until 5pm in person and midnight online, on Friday, August 30, so you can save time and money, and pick your seat in advance. Click here to buy online!