Late drama saw Exeter City’s under-18s draw 2-2 with rivals Plymouth Argyle in the Under-18s version of the Devon Derby on Saturday.
The Pilgrims took the lead midway through the first half through Ethan Mitchell’s deflected effort, before City worked themselves back into the contest in the second half.
Exeter’s youngsters managed to turn the game right around when they scored twice in a matter of moments thanks to goals from Zeph Collins, and brother Eli, with little more than eight minutes remaining.
However, the visitors took a share of the spoils thanks to Rhys Shirley’s leveller deep into injury time. The resulting point sees Chad Gribble’s side consolidate their third position in the Youth Alliance league standings, ahead of two tough fixtures across both the league and FA Youth Cup.
Saturday's match began evenly, with both teams trying to find some rhythm in the early moments. In a cagey opening 10 minutes, Argyle looked to build with some precise through passes, while the home side were at their most dangerous down the flanks.
With no real effort at goal inside the opening quarter of an hour, a more decent opportunity fell the Grecians’ way in the 20th minute after Nelson Iseguan threatened down his wing. A cut-back to the edge of the box followed, which saw Jack Veale run onto the ball, before the midfielder forced Tyler Coombes in the Plymouth goal into a good low save to keep it goalless.
City were made to rue that miss, as Plymouth broke the deadlock just five minutes later. A Pilgrims corner fell into the danger zone, before Mitchell fired a shot towards goal. The ball ricocheted amongst a congested penalty box, before it finally ended in the back of the Exeter net to make it 1-0.
As a result of the goal, the away side grew in confidence and saw a lot of the ball as they tried to increase their lead during the remainder of the first period.
However, it stayed at a one-goal game as half-time arrived, before Gribble’s men began the second 45 minutes in a much brighter mood. Although opportunities were difficult to come by, they gained a lot of territory in what was their brightest spell of the contest.
But they remained behind until the 75th minute, when Zeph Collins grabbed a deserved equaliser from a set-piece. Argyle cleared their lines from the initial delivery, but as the ball fell to the edge on the box, the defender kept his composure to shoot past the Argyle shotstopper to bring the teams level.
That goal brought renewed belief to the Grecian ranks and a real positiveness to their build-up play. As a result, the hosts’ neat interchanges led to them taking a 2-1 lead with eight minutes remaining following a neat move involving Ellis Johnson and substitute Joe Wragg. The ball was pulled back to Eli Collins, and his goalbound effort was powerful enough to creep under Coombes to give City the advantage.
In response, the Pilgrims made two late changes. With the visitors throwing more men forward to try and salvage a draw, their efforts were rewarded in the third minute of stoppage time when Angel Waruih and Will Jenkins-Davies worked the ball down the left. Shirley reacted quickest to the resulting cross, and the replacement volleyed home from six yards to make it 2-2, handing both sides a point apiece following an eventful affair.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “When you concede so late on, it can feel like two points dropped, but truthfully, we didn’t play well enough to get the win and a draw is a fair reflection of the game.
“We displayed a little bit of character after going a goal behind, and showed more life and energy in our performance in the second half which meant we could increase our levels slightly. We almost managed to hold on for the win, and if we had managed to do so we would’ve come away delighted.
“It is nice to keep this unbeaten run going, and that always gives you confidence and belief, but I don’t think we are short of those things at the moment. We haven’t played particularly well lately despite our recent results, and we’ve been winning in a different way. It is a nice characteristic to have, and the players should keep hold of that, but the challenge I pose to the players now is can they show a bit more quality?
“We travel to Oxford United on Saturday, before we play our FA Youth Cup match with AFC Bournemouth. Oxford are tough and strong, and they beat us 3-0 earlier on in the season. We probably had a 15-minute lapse in that game which ultimately cost us, so the players know that any moments where we aren’t at it, like at times in this game, we could get punished for it. These are great games coming up for us, as our next two opponents are sitting first and second in the league. If there is a benchmark, it’ll be in these two matches, and I’m looking forward to testing ourselves against them both.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Toby Neville, Zeph Collins, Ellis Johnson, Max Clark, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Alex Moyse, Nelson Iseguan, Harry Ford, Frank Lovett
Subs: Eli Collins, Joe Wragg, Sonny Cox, Charlie Hanson, Edward James