An explosive first-half performance saw Exeter City’s under-18s bounce back from last week’s defeat in convincing style as they secured a 3-1 win at home to Cheltenham Town under-18s on Saturday.
Frank Lovett fired the Grecians in front with a low finish in the 20th minute, before Harry Ford doubled the advantage eight minutes later.
Jack Veale netted the third goal for Chad Gribble’s side seven minutes before the interval, and although the Robins converted a second-half penalty, it wasn’t enough to deny the Devon outfit all three points as they guided their Youth Alliance league campaign back on course.
Exeter’s youngsters started brightly, enjoying plenty of early possession which in turn gave them a lot of territory in the Town half.
Half-chances came and went for the hosts, with Jamie Nicholson looking particularly threatening with his darting during the opening stages. The City youngster saw a header well saved, before he turned one shot just wide of the post as his team continued to press forward in the search for a breakthrough.
Some aggressive pressing in midfield saw the Grecians carve open their best chance for Frank Lovett, however the opposition defence recovered well, who ended up blocking the goal bound effort and smothering the ball to safety.
Gribble’s men did find a way through though 20 minutes in when Ellis Johnson won possession back for his team. The defender played a nice pass into Lovett, and he arrowed a shot across the goal and into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
It wasn’t long before the Exeter lead was doubled. Just eight minutes later, a cross from the left wing saw one initial effort blocked by the scrambling defence, but on hand was Ford, who collected the rebound to shoot the ball into the back of the net for 2-0.
City’s dominance continued in the lead up to half-time, and as they won the ball back in the 38th minute, Veale made a late run that was found by Ford’s precise pass, and the captain finished off the move to hand his team a three-goal cushion.
Cheltenham came out for the second period with a change in style as they became more aggressive and more direct in their play. Initially, that put the home team on the back foot, but they rode the storm and regained control.
Lovett and Nicholson both saw promising chances denied before a header was sent over the crossbar in what was three quick-fire chances for City during the first 20 minutes after the restart.
Against the run of play though, it was the visitors who grabbed the game’s fourth goal when a counter-attack saw them get in behind the opposing defence. In his desperate attempts to win possession back, Nelson Iseguan bundled his man over in the 18-yard box. The Robins despatched the resulting penalty to reduce the deficit to make it 3-1 with 25 minutes to play.
But it was the Grecians who enjoyed more of the play in the final stages, as they enjoyed decent spells in the game without really threatening the score. Good game management meant they saw the win out, to record their third win from their first four matches of the Youth Alliance South West division, ahead of a tough game against Portsmouth next weekend.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “The first 30 minutes was fantastic from us. A fast start helps us set up the way we want to play, and we play our best football when we are full of life and energy. That meant that we got Cheltenham on the back foot early. I also liked the way new defended as we gave them very little, and even when they went direct in the second half, we dealt with that well.
“We talked about expecting a response from them at half-time, but you never know what you’re going to get. They may change their tactics, personnel or formation, but they tweaked their style and we managed to deal with that. We had to fight to get control back after the interval, but if there was one thing that we could’ve done better today, it was probably that we could’ve regained control completely in the second period.
“Their goal gave them something to believe in, and made our players aware of the dangers of how just one pass and one mistake can change things. It ensured our concentration levels were where they needed to be.
“We play Portsmouth away next weekend, which will be another tough match. We have never had an easy game, or easy away day with them so we know what to expect. The players can take a lot though from their first four games, including the defeat to Bristol Rovers. We have had a lot of positives from the matches, but the first 30 minutes here was probably the most complete performance we have put in so far, but that was only 30 minutes and the challenge for the team now is can we do that more consistently!?”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Alfie Pond, Toby Neville, Ellis Johnson, Max Clark, Alex Moyse, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Harry Ford, Jamie Nicholson, Frank Lovett
Subs: Harry Lee, Michael Lilley, Zeph Collins, Eli Collins, Joe Wragg