Exeter City’s under-18s bounced back from last weekend’s defeat with a convincing 3-1 victory over Swindon Town’s on Saturday.
Louis Morison’s penalty had the Grecians ahead in the 28th minute, before a superb team move ended with Frank Lovett doubling his side’s advantage six minutes before half-time.
A rejuvenated Town side came out after the interval and put the hosts under pressure, which told early on in the second period with the Robins bundling the ball home to reduce the deficit.
However, the Devon outfit regained control when the away side were reduced to 10 men with under 20 minutes remaining, before a stunning strike from substitute Jamie Nicholson on 78 minutes sealed a deserved 3-1 victory for Chad Gribble’s men.
The match started with both sides trading possession when they were trying to settle themselves into some sort of rhythm. Half-chances came and went for both teams but nothing presented itself to the attacking players during the opening quarter of an hour.
City were patient in their approach, moving the ball around calmly between their defence and midfield as they waited for an opportunity to open up against what was a deep-lying visitors’ defence.
Swindon’s goalkeeper was called into action in the 18th minute with a routine save from Morison’s free-kick, however, the home captain was presented with another goalscoring opportunity when the referee awarded Exeter a penalty.
Alex Moyse ran onto Jack Stafford’s chip, and some impressive ball retention saw the midfielder tripped inside the 18-yard box by a scrambling defender. Morison stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, and he confidently dispatched his attempt to give his team the lead just before the half-hour mark.
It was dominating spell by the young Grecians, and they continued to pressurise their opponents with plenty of efforts on the Town goal; Nelson Iseguan linked up with Lovett, which saw the latter fire a deflected effort off-target as the hosts looked to establish a two-goal cushion.
In the 39th minute, the Devonians did breakthrough again courtesy of an eye-catching second. After some patient build-up play, Gribble’s men worked the ball to the right flank. Lovett and Moyse combined effectively, and a give-and-go saw Lovett break into the penalty area. The winger cut inside and danced around a slide tackle, before whipping an effort into the far bottom corner to make it 2-0 just before half-time.
A response came from Town after the break, with Alfie Pond’s sliding tackle denying a goalbound effort when the Robins got in down the left wing.
However, the full-back’s game was cut short in the 51st minute when he went off with an injury. That meant City shuffled their system, which consequently saw the visitors haul themselves back into the contest with a goal of their own.
A short corner caught the Exeter defence out, before an inswinging cross caused havoc in front of the Grecians goal. The ball was forced home from close-range to give Swindon renewed hope and the change of momentum.
Lovett found himself in attack with the alteration of shape, and his combination with Nicholson on the hour mark came close to swinging the match back in the hosts’ favour when the replacement’s low cross was blocked.
But it was Town who continued to attack more regularly. Two chances in as many minutes were repelled by some solid defending, however, when the Robins did manage to get through the stubborn backline midway through the second half, Jack Arthur acrobatically tipped the volley over the crossbar.
As the visitors began to turn the screw, they shot themselves in the foot on 71 minutes when one Swindon defender was dismissed after tangling with Morison during an attacking set-play.
That red card helped the Devon club regain the initiative, with Moyse flashing a cross-shot just wide of goal as Gribble’s players looked to take advantage of the extra space.
That certainly came to fruition with 12 minutes remaining, when Nicholson’s superb shot meant City re-established their two-goal lead.
After cutting out a short free-kick deep in the visitors’ half, the ball was worked to the edge of the box. Nicholson took control of the situation and curled an effort beyond the reach of the opposition goalkeeper and into the top corner to send everyone associated with Exeter into raptures.
Nicholson continued to be heavily involved afterwards, with the youngster seeing a low effort pushed around the post after 83 minutes when he was teed up by Lewis Wilson.
Despite some late revival by Town’s players, when they forced three late corners in their search for another goal, the day belonged to the Grecians, who, in spite of some moments on the back foot, did enough to seal the win, and put a four point gap between themselves and the Robins in the Youth Alliance South West league standings.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “I’m probably as pleased, if not more, with our performance. I’m a big believer in thinking that if you continue stringing decent performances together, you’ll soon see the results go your way. I was so impressed with how our players were on the ball, and their pass selection. We didn’t expect Swindon to stand off us, so we had to adjust, and we executed that well. Our second goal demonstrated that, with the way we controlled the ball, strung together 25 passes together, and chose the right time to go forward.
“The injury to Alfie Pond rattled us, and we had to change our shape initially. I didn’t feel Swindon didn’t look a massive threat, but to our players and our supporters it may have looked like we were on the back foot at that point, but our backline were excellent throughout. Their goal caught us off guard. The speed they did their quick corner at meant we had a bit of a brain freeze, which is disappointing.
“The game was heating up, and the red card came as a result of Swindon being fired up for the second half. Things got competitive, but I was pleased with how our players handled everything. I was pleased with how our players stood up to Swindon, and it never looked like our players were out of control.
“I’m very pleased with the goals we have scored. Our second showed patience and quality on the ball, whilst the third goal showed some individual instinct. Jamie [Nicholson] stepped in, took the ball from our forward and struck a fantastic shot which takes confidence and bravery.
“Our two centre-backs were outstanding. They may have gone unnoticed after a performance where we scored some good goals and passed the ball well, but they were very good throughout and gave us the platform we needed to attack.
“We face Cheltenham Town away from home next, where we will be looking to build on this performance. They will be structured and organised and will have a team set up to execute a game plan. I’ve never been to Cheltenham and had an easy game so we will be looking to use the match as an opportunity to put in another decent performance.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Alex Moyse, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Michael Lilley, Harry Lee, Dan Preece, Zeph Collins, Jamie Nicholson