Exeter City’s under-18s coach Chad Gribble came away from his team’s final pre-season friendly with plenty of optimism despite them suffering a 1-0 defeat away at Northampton Town.
“Northampton are always a tough side” claimed Gribble. “We’ve only lost to a controversial penalty, and I am pleased to see we have progressed well over our whole pre-season. I feel we are in a good place.”
The Cobblers started the match confidently and saw plenty of the ball. Using their possession effectively, they picked their moments to attack well, and they found themselves in the away side’s defensive third several times during a commanding first-hand display.
Exeter soaked up the early pressure, restricting their opponents to half-chances, but they were unable to get a foothold in the game themselves.
Half-time arrived with the game still goalless, and despite the home side being in charge of proceedings, the game was still either side’s as goal threats were limited.
After the break, the Grecians sparked into life, and they started to put together some nice phases of play. As a result, some chances started to fall their way, particularly from set-pieces.
Theo Simpson saw a couple of half-chances go close, whilst Nelson Iseguan caused the Town backline plenty of problems. One teasing cross from the winger saw the opposing defence scramble the ball to safety in what was a positive period in the game for Gribble’s men.
Despite the momentum largely with City, it was the hosts who snatched a late winner in a cruel twist for the Devon youngsters.
In a slick counter-attack, Northampton moved the ball forward to advance into a dangerous position. Despite the visitors getting back in numbers to initially stop the break, the referee adjudged that there was a foul inside the 18-yard box and awarded the Cobblers a penalty in the final minute. The spot-kick was despatched, and the home side came away with the victory.
Despite the disappointment of the late goal, Gribble commended his team and believes there is plenty to look forward to with this group of players.
He said: “I’ve got to give my players credit for staying in the game during the first half. Our opponents had a good amount of possession and territory, but it takes a certain level of maturity and skill to stay in the game as we did.
“I was very pleased with how the players listened and applied themselves after what we had asked of them at half-time. That led us to having the majority of the play in the second half, and admittedly the penalty at the end put a dampener on things for us.
“If we are to take anything from this match, I’d like the players to get a foothold in the match earlier. We are working towards creating players who can think for themselves, and here we weren’t really in the game until we had a chat with everyone at half-time. We are hoping we can get to a stage where we haven't got our backs to the wall and we can get an early foothold to build from.
“I think it is evident that the boys have had a good and testing pre-season. We’ve improved in areas across the board, and we’ve only lost here due to a controversial penalty.
“We’ve gradually picked things up, and I feel Northampton are a reflective opponent to what we will face in the Youth Alliance South West division. We've continued to talk about this pre-season giving us a platform to build from, and I am pleased with how we have done. We’ve still got work to do, but we are in a good place.
“The players are excited for the start of the league. They love competitive football, and with the added touch of points at stake and a league table to look towards, they are all chomping at the bit to get things going.”
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