Exeter City’s under-18s endured a difficult away day on Saturday thanks to a 4-0 defeat by Oxford United under-18s in the Youth Alliance South West division.
Josh Anifowose’s deflected cross gave the U’s an early lead, with Jack Veale’s inswinging free-kick which went just past the post the closest City’s youngsters came to levelling the game
Mac Masters doubled the Oxford advantage, before two late goals through Gatlin O’Donkor and Elijah Coe sealed the victory for the hosts.
Chad Gribble’s side were a little unlucky to be on the end of such a heavy defeat, which sees them drop one place to fourth in the league standings, two points behind third-placed Portsmouth under-18s.
The young Grecians found themselves on the back foot from an early stage as United started Saturday’s match rather brightly. They enjoyed a lot of possession and territory in the Exeter half, which in the end resulted in an early strike for the home side.
After advancing down the right wing, Anifowose looked to send the ball into the middle. His centre though was charged down by Max Clark, who ended up getting the faintest of touches on the ball to divert it goalwards. The deflection wrong-footed goalkeeper Jack Arthur and nestled into the back of the net inside the near post to make it 1-0.
Despite the early setback, the visitors settled after and became a threat down the right flank. On several occasions, Frank Lovett delivered some dangerous crosses into the penalty area, however, his teammates were unable to get on the receiving end of them to test the U’s shotstopper.
As the half grew older, City created their best opportunity through a set-piece. Veale whipped a cross into the box which Sonny Cox was just inches away from, before the ball whistled past the far post and away to safety.
Oxford posed problems throughout the half, but in the latter stages of the first 45-minutes they looked particularly threatening on the counter-attack. Often their surges forward led to cut-backs into the centre for an onrushing forward, but Gribble’s men had to be at the best to repel those chances and keep it at a one-goal game when the two teams went into the break.
The Grecians started the second period particularly positively, as they put together some nice passages of play, however they were unable to create anything meaningful in their search for an equaliser.
The second goal of the game went the way of the hosts in controversial circumstances following a corner that was initially dealt with by the Exeter backline. In the lead up to the second phase of the attack, one United player appeared to be offside, before the ball ended up past Arthur via Masters’ effort that went across the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner.
The goal didn’t upset the rhythm of the away side however, and they continued to get the ball into the final third without having enough penetration in attack to haul themselves back into the contest.
With City chasing the game and throwing more caution to the wind, the U’s exploited the lack of numbers in defence with a third goal on 75 minutes. With a swift break forward, the ball fell to O’Donkor who cut inside and slotted the ball home to extend the advantage.
Oxford wrapped up the game late on through Coe’s 25-yard strike, leaving Gribble’s team hoping they can respond to this defeat quickly with their FA Youth Cup fixture with AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday evening.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “We were beaten by the better team, but 4-0 wasn’t a reflection of how we played. We never really worked the goalkeeper, but we were quite happy with parts of our performance. It goes to show when you play such good opposition, having just part of a performance can’t be enough. Whether we concede via a deflection, or an offside, is irrelevant. They had the cutting edge we lacked.
“We played better in the second half. Going in at just 1-0 down was good and a positive thing after one of our slowest starts of the season because they began the game well. But it is a bit frustrating really that they took the opportunities presented to them.
“We are taking the positives out of this and moving on quickly. We have got to go again. We left that game in the changing room, as there is no time to dwell on it. But it goes to show we can compete with the better teams in this division.
“I think we are going into Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup match with AFC Bournemouth as underdogs, but there are bits of our performance here that we can take into that game. We know a lot about them. They are the league leaders at the moment, and have a strong identity, and are good at what they do, but we have beaten that before. It is a game we are all looking forward to, and it is a chance to test ourselves in a one-off game. Having the experience of playing in the previous two rounds might be something we can draw on, but we want to be positive, and impose ourselves on the game.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Toby Neville, Zeph Collins, Ellis Johnson, Max Clark, Jack Veale, Alex Moyse, Harry Ford, Nelson Iseguan, Sonny Cox, Frank Lovett
Subs: Eli Collins, Joe Wragg, Michael Lilley, Charlie Hanson, Dan Preece