Exeter City’s under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble, admitted his players put in their most all-round performance of the season after his team recorded an eye-catching 3-1 victory over AFC Bournemouth U18s in the third round of the FA Youth Cup on Wednesday evening.
In his post-match interview, Gribble said, “I’m just really pleased for the lads. That is a seriously good opponent we’ve played tonight, and we knew we were going to have to be at our best in all parts of our game. It’s probably the most complete performance of the season so far on a night when it counted, so I’m delighted for the boys, and they thoroughly deserved the victory in the end.”
In an entertaining affair throughout, the contest began at a frenetic tempo, with the Grecians able to put together some lovely interchanges in the opening few minutes. Their early pressure led to Sonny Cox breaking the deadlock for the hosts just six minutes in after skipper Jack Veale whipped in a dangerous free-kick, which allowed Cox to head home his fourth goal of the competition.
In his comments after the game, the Under-18s captain admitted how important it was to start the game well.
“We were the underdogs coming into it, and an early goal showed everyone what we could do, and that Bournemouth weren’t going to come and roll us over.”
But a strong reaction from the Cherries saw them reply with their first meaningful attack just a few minutes later. A lovely reverse pass put Euan Pollock through on goal, and he tucked home a low finish to level the scores.
As a result of the equaliser, the visitors grew into the game and enjoyed long spells of possession, with Ajani Burchall proving to be a real handful for the Exeter backline. The winger saw a deflected effort just go past the post, before his cross set up Pollock in the 17th minute, whose powerful volley was saved well by Jack Arthur.
Without the ball, the home side were intense with their pressing, and that helped Exeter create an opening for Lovett in the 28th minute, but the forward could only shoot over from 12 yards.
The teams traded further chances as half-time loomed, with Cox and Burchall looking the most threatening for their respective teams, but things remained finely poised when the half did come to a close.
In amongst a flurry of corners early on in the second period, Veale drove an effort narrowly over, but the main talking point came courtesy of some of the floodlights failing and the game being delayed for a brief period.
When the teams returned to the pitch, Gribble commended how his players remained on task despite the disruption.
“The boys did a good job of staying focused, and staying in the moment because it was their corner when we came back onto the pitch, and that was five or six minutes off the pitch so credit to the lads for staying focused in that key moment.”
Although the visitors had the first real opportunity following the restart, City continued to play some intricate stuff during their positive spells in the game. In 73rd minute they deservedly retook the lead following a frenetic sequence of events. Cox first teed up Lovett who saw his one-on-one chance well saved by Billy Terrell. The ball found its way back to the feet of Cox, who brought about a second block from the goalkeeper before the ball looped up towards the back post. Veale was first to react to the high ball, and he bravely won his aerial duel to divert the ball goalwards, and although Bournemouth thought they had cleared their lines, the assistant referee flagged that the ball had crossed the line, resulting in Exeter’s youngsters celebrating a second goal.
Gribble’s men used that goal to really swing the momentum, and perhaps should have put the game to bed, however, Lovett and Cox both found the Cherries shotstopper in tremendous form and he pulled off two athletic saves.
At 2-1 though Bournemouth were never out of the contest, and from very little, they almost levelled terms to force extra-time. Jack Wadham slipped a precise through ball to the ever-threatening Pollock, and his thunderous strike rattled the crossbar much to the relief of everyone in red and white.
The hosts may have ridden their luck on that occasion, but they deservedly sealed the victory in the 90th minute through another Veale header. Lovett’s determined dribble saw him bring play up to the final third, before he played the ball out wide to Johnson. The right-back’s deep cross located Veale at the far post, and the Exeter midfielder towered above the opposing defenders to nod in via the post to extend the lead and put the result beyond all doubt.
The 3-1 victory for the Grecians meant they inflicted the Cherries to their first defeat of the season, and sent the Grecians into the hat for the fourth round of the competition for the first time since the 2015/16 season when they faced Preston North End.
Following the match, Gribble explained how proud he was of the football his team played throughout the contest.
“The team worked, they ran, they competed, and tonight, unlike the previous two rounds, I thought we showed enough quality on the ball to create some chances and have spells of possession ourselves against a team who we know are very good on the ball so I’m delighted with how complete that performance was.
“Our young players are brought up on playing football, and they found moments to do that tonight against arguably the best team in our league with the ball at their feet. So I’m delighted that we could show that side of our game as well.
“I think this performance should give the players all the belief that they need. That they can compete and they can challenge those top two or three in the division and we can go toe-to-toe with top Academies, and Premier League and Championship sides like Bournemouth. Our Academy has done that in the past, and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to do it again tonight.”
Veale meanwhile admitted he wanted a home draw in the next round so his team could do it all over again in front of the City supporters.
“It was a good performance from the lads. We knew coming into it we’d have to put in a good performance to beat Bournemouth, they’re a good side, and we knew if we worked hard we could probably get the job done, and that’s what we did.
“It’s a shame the fans couldn’t be here. It’s always good to play in front of the fans, but it is always good to play at a stadium, and hopefully we can get a good draw in the next round and we play here again in front of some fans.”