Exeter City’s under-18s were denied their first three points of Merit League One after two late Swindon Town goals resulted in a 2-2 draw between the two teams at the Cliff Hill training ground on Saturday.
Lewis Wilson handed his side the lead halfway through the first period, before strike partner, Theo Simpson doubled the Grecians’ lead five minutes after half-time.
A spell of attacking pressure from the Robins led to them pulling a goal back in the 85th minute when they bundled the ball home from a free-kick, before they netted another two minutes later when they took full advantage of a defensive lapse in concentration.
It means with back-to-back 2-2 draws, Chad Gribble’s men do stretch their unbeaten run, but will be cursing themselves that they aren’t higher in the Merit League standings after letting a two-goal advantage slip.
It was a fairly balanced start, with the Wiltshire outfit looking to play in a direct manner to put the City defence on the back foot.
The game settled down and a neat move amongst City in the 23rd minute led to the deadlock being broken by Exeter’s youngsters.
Jack Veale and Louis Morison combined effectively, before playing the ball wide for Charlie Lawrence. The midfielder crossed for the Wilson, and the attacker demonstrated his poaching instincts by finishing well to make it 1-0 to the home team.
In response, the visitors continued with their direct approach, but looked to move the ball forward at a quicker tempo. Reacting to the switch, the Grecians defended well, organising and tackling well to stop the opposition before they had any meaningful shots at Jack Arthur’s goal.
Offensively, Gribble’s side enjoyed plenty of territory but their carelessness in the final third led to their attacks breaking down when they found themselves in promising positions.
Despite forcing the ball too much in open play as they went forward, they did create chances from set-pieces. Ten minutes before the interval, Lawrence’s free-kick found Morison, and his volley rattled the crossbar.
That unfortunate miss meant the scores stayed the same when the half-time whistle blew, with both sides thinking they could still get something out of the contest.
The hosts began the second period really well and added the missing ingredients to their first-half display. City’s players looked to get the ball into the Town half quickly, which helped them build pressure on to the goal.
The half was just five minutes old when they scored again. Veale passed the ball to Simpson, and the forward created half a yard for himself before firing a shot on goal. The effort went beyond the Swindon goalkeeper and into the corner to give his team a two-goal cushion.
Facing an uphill task, the away side changed things as they looked to get back into the game. An extra body was thrown forward, and with that, the territory started falling their way.
The Devon club’s backline began conceding more space as they sat deeper as the game reached the closing stages. Off the back of that, Arthur made a fantastic one-on-one save to keep it to a two-goal game.
However, on 85 minutes, the Robins managed to half the deficit following a set-play. After Exeter had given the ball away on the counter-attack, the Wiltshire outfit broke forward quickly before winning a free-kick in a dangerous position.
With the ball played into the penalty area the ball was forced over the line at the second attempt to make it 2-1 and give belief to everyone associated with the visitors.
That momentum shift continued as just two minutes later, the game was tied up courtesy of some indecisive Grecian defending.
A long ball forward caused confusion for Gribble’s men and with no one able to take command and clear away the danger, one Town player snuck in and found himself in behind the defence. The attacker kept his composure to tuck the ball home and rescue a point for his side.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “For 75 minutes, I thought we were outstanding considering the age of the team we fielded, and the age differences between the two teams.
"Swindon Town always provide us with an excellent test, and it showed how well we played by going 2-0 up against them. We just lacked a bit of maturity in the final 20 minutes, and they really started to get a foothold in the game. The game has provided us with a great learning opportunity.
“It’s always more disappointing when you’re so close to getting a positive result. Swindon were excellent with their approach in the final 20 minutes, and they really made it difficult for us. I have to credit them for their comeback.
"Our young players, like those who were in the team at the start of the season, need to understand and learn how to manage situations and see games out.
“The positives from the performance came from the first 75 minutes. We improved with our use of the ball from last week, and we created decent opportunities, which we ended up getting two goals from. The missing pieces to our performance were the things in the final 20 minutes.
“Our young players strive to improve every day, and they came off the pitch bitterly disappointed. Credit to them because they have picked themselves up quickly, and they’ll be looking forward to another really good game next time out.
“Next up for us is an away game at Southend United, where I am expecting a similar kind of test. Of course, we have already played them, when we won the Youth Alliance Cup Southern Section there, but I have no doubt that whatever group of players they decide to go with this time the will prove us with another good test.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Joe Belsten, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Jack Veale, Charlie Lawrence, Lewis Wilson, Nelson Iseguan, Theo Simpson. Subs not used: Alex Moyse, Frank Lovett, Jay Stansfield