Exeter City’s under-18s were knocked out of the second round of the FA Youth Cup following a 2-1 defeat to Ipswich Town at Portman Road last Saturday.
A fast start from the Tractor Boys saw them take the lead after just four minutes courtesy of Connor O’Reilly, before the hosts doubled their lead seven minutes before half-time through Colin Oppong’s powerful effort.
In contrast, the Grecians began the second period brighter, and they were rewarded for their efforts when captain Louis Morison headed home to half the deficit but despite a number of good chances they were unable to find an equaliser.
The visitors arrived full of optimism following their decent league run in recent weeks, and their belief and courage shone through in the opening minute of the contest when Nelson Iseguan stole possession high up the pitch following an Ipswich goal kick. The winger could only drag his shot wide however.
In spite of the opening half-chance falling the way of the Devonians, the home team settled quickly, and controlled the possession and territory, pinning Chad Gribble’s men deep in their own half.
The Tractor Boys had the ball in the net after just two minutes, which was ultimately ruled out for offside, but just moments later, the hosts did take the lead.
Following a cross into the centre, a headed knockdown allowed O’Reilly to get forward and bundle the ball in to hand his team the early advantage.
From then on, City struggled to keep the ball and get forward in what was a dominating period by Town’s players.
After a difficult 10 minutes, the away side then started to see more of the ball, allowing Lewis Wilson to stretch the game with some darting runs. The Grecians also threatened down the right side through Frank Lovett, however, when the forward crossed for Chrisene, it only resulted in a goal kick.
The Blues looked most dangerous down the flanks, and they established a two-goal cushion in the 38th minute. A clever ball from the left side fed Oppong, and he rolled Jack Stafford before firing the ball past goalkeeper Jack Arthur to make it 2-0.
After half-time, Exeter started winning possession back in more advanced positions and saw territory come their way as a result.
After an hour, their positivity really showed when another attack from the visitors saw Max Clark get forward before he looked to pass. The full-back’s cross struck an Ipswich hand, but the referee awarded a free-kick on the edge of the 18-yard box when the Devon club shouted for a penalty. The set-piece came to nothing, with Gribble’s men left incensed that they should’ve been handed a spot-kick to hand themselves a lifeline.
City did reduce the deficit after 65 minutes however when Jack Veale’s corner was headed home by Morison, and the away side looked to that goal as inspiration in their search for a leveller.
Moments later, Chrisene’s high press saw him steal the ball high once again, but a fantastic last-ditch tackle denied the Grecian midfielder a real shot at goal.
With 10 minutes remaining, Iseguan combined with substitute Collins, however, his far post strike was clawed away by Blues keeper Jake Alley.
In the closing minutes, Iseguan again asked questions with another surge down the wing, but his pull-back into a dangerous area was blocked and eventually cleared.
No further score meant the Tractor Boys held on to their lead, and secured their third round place where they will face Cardiff City.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “Our second-half performance probably warranted another goal and extra-time, but in the opening 20 minutes we looked shaky and nervous and that meant we were on the back foot.
“On the balance of play, Ipswich probably deserved the victory because even when we had a decent spell, they looked more comfortable in defence than when we did. The occasion maybe got to us, and playing in a stadium in front of a crowd like that isn’t something that the boys are used to, and, by the time we settled, it was too late. I’m very proud we were able to compete with a team like Ipswich, and I have no complaints.
“It was a great learning experience for the boys and I’m delighted we went toe-to-toe with them. They posed us problems with their athleticism and speed of play which is something we don’t face every week. They were experienced in comparison to our young side, but our players have proved their capabilities. It was just a tough and daunting occasion that got to them here.
“The second half was excellent though, and the three individuals that stood out were Louis Morison, Max Clark and Jack Veale. Overall the team showed fighting spirit, and they showed a good representation of what Exeter City Football Club are all about and the way we want to play football. We were aggressive, physical, and passed the ball forward quickly, and if we started the game like that then who knows what might have happened. Our players should come away from that game with belief, after competing with a team like Ipswich who have much more resources than we do.
“We return to league action this weekend with an away trip to Yeovil Town. We will be looking forward to it and will be hoping to take our second-half performance into that game. We have to be respectful of them, as it is a derby match and always a tough fixture, but we will approach it like any derby match, and hope to use and take our experiences into it.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Jack Veale, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Max Clarke, Louis Morison, Alex Moyse, Ben Chrisene, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Lewis Wilson. Subs not used: Ellis Johnson, Eli Collins, Zeph Collins, Jamie Nicholson, Rhys Fuller