Exeter City’s under-18s responded to their two recent league defeats with a 1-0 home victory over Forest Green Rovers on Saturday, December 7.
After suffering two consecutive defeats the week before, City’s youth coach, Chad Gribble, was keen to stress how he didn’t want his players to get caught dwelling on their recent setbacks as they entered their run of fixtures before the Christmas period.
It was Rovers that saw most of the ball in the opening moments, but their possession rarely troubled the hosts.
The threat posed by Gribble’s men in the first period came from their set pieces, and two corners almost saw them take the lead; Jack Veale’s set-piece was met by the head of Diabate, but the defender could only divert the ball wide, whilst Harry Ford’s centre fell kindly for Louis Morison, though the captain blazed over when presented with his opportunity.
Later on in the half, the visitors created their best opening when they counter-attacked quickly. A lapse in concentration by the defence meant Forest Green were able to get a shot away which would have lead to the breakthrough had it not been for Jack Stafford’s intervention on the goalline.
Nelson Iseguan began to look lively as the home team regained some sort of control, with the winger flashing several balls across the face of goal, whilst teammate Harry Ford saw looked dangerous with a number of efforts, however, they were halted by some brave blocks on the edge of the 18-yard box.
Those attacking surges proved to just be warning signs as a Grecians goal came just five minutes before the interval. Ford’s corner located Diabate towards the far post, and he lashed in a volley giving the away keeper no chance.
After the break, Exeter were put under a substantial amount of pressure by their opponents, with Rovers pushing more men forward in their search for an equaliser.
That pressure told 10 minutes into the second half when the visitors won themselves a penalty after Pond had bumped over his opposite number in the box. But the scoreline remained unchanged after the spot-kick was struck down the centre and Arthur stayed big enough to divert the ball clear with his feet.
That moment helped settle the City players, and they were able to enjoy a positive spell afterwards, with Lewis Wilson coming the closest to adding to his team’s goal tally when his strike was ruled out for offside.
The final 20 minutes saw the contest open up, and as the game became stretched, the visitors continued to crank up the pressure in the final third.
With the hosts unable to make the most of their possession and break out effectively, the ascendency appeared to be with Forest Green, and they looked like they may find their leveller through direct football and set-plays.
Arthur made an important claim as he put an end to one Rovers free-kick, whilst Pond rose highest to head the ball out on two separate occasions as the away side continued to flood the box with long balls and crosses.
With the Devon side putting their bodies on the line to make certain of the clean sheet, that led to the players celebrating the 1-0 scoreline when the final whistle sounded meaning Gribble’s men returned to winning ways after a display of grit and determination.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “Firstly, I am pleased for the players because off the back of the two defeats last week we’ve managed to win. We played ok in spells, we weren’t perfect, but it was almost a complete performance from the boys.
“We defended very well, but I would have liked to have had more control, particularly in the second half. They committed more bodies forward and went more direct as the game went on, and we got caught up in that. In many ways, it was similar to the AFC Bournemouth match, and we were always running the risk of running out of energy, especially as the game was only 1-0.
“We could’ve used the ball better, and managed the game a bit better, because they had some big physical lads at the top end of the pitch so it ended up being a different type of test. I am glad we were able to come through a different type of game.
“The goal we scored was important and it came at a good time as it made the half-time team talk easier. I would have been disappointed if it was 0-0 at half-time because we should have been two or three goals up. After settling we were probably on top, and we put in a few dangerous crosses. We were probably at our best in that first period, but at 1-0 you always run the risk because we could have put it to bed.
“It was a tremendously hard-working performance. To work as hard our match on Tuesday when we didn’t have the ball meant it was always going to be tough. There were some good moments, and the set pieces worked well, but the result was down to our work. Towards the end, we were putting our bodies on the line which epitomised the performance.
“We play Cheltenham Town next, which will be very tough as it is never easy against them. We are looking forward to it but we will have to be at our best to get a result. They always pose a physical challenge which is one we will relish, but we will need to be ready for it. The result here puts us in a good position as it was easy to get stuck in a rut after two defeats, but we have two tough fixtures before the Christmas break, so hopefully we can use our Forest Green Rovers performance as a platform to build from for both of them.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Harry Ford, Louis Morison, Alex Moyse, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Max Clark, Michael Lilley, Harry Lee, Joe Wragg, A. Trialist