City’s under-18s suffering a home defeat to second-placed Oxford United under-18s on Saturday.
Despite a bright start, and the Grecians creating the better of the chances in the first half, they fell behind to a U’s goal a minute before the interval.
Buoyed by their opener, the visitors doubled their lead five minutes into the second period, before adding another on 55 minutes when netting from a set-piece.
City got back onto the ball as the game grew older, however, they were unable to break a stubborn United defence down, and the away side left Devon with a clean sheet, and all three points.
High on confidence following their decent cup performance on Wednesday, Chad Gribble’s side returned to action in the Youth Alliance South West division knowing they faced a difficult game against a talented Oxford team.
But Exeter’s youngsters began proceedings with real intent and enjoyed plenty of possession inside the U’s half. As the game reached the 15-minute mark, the hosts created a really good opening following a combination between Max Clark and Nelson Iseguan down the left. The latter looked to move play on to Harry Ford in front of goal, but the winger was just unable to get a vital touch to send the ball goalwards.
In contrast to the Grecians neat passing moves, the away team only threatened the scoreboard through set-plays, and in particular, corners.
But a minute before half-time, United broke through the City defence for the first time leaving the Devonians a little short at the back. Oxford worked the ball from right to left, before a lovely cut-back into the centre was converted past the goalkeeper to open the scoring.
The U’s used their first-goal as a real momentum builder, and they started the second period in a confident mood. Five minutes after the restart, the visitors doubled their advantage. Following some promising build-up play down the left flank, the ball was crossed for one United striker who despatched a sweet first-time finish to make it 2-0.
The Oxford onslaught continued, and in the 55th minute, their advantage was extended. The U’s hoisted a free-kick into the Exeter penalty area, and despite Andrew Sowden’s best efforts, the ‘keeper was unable to get a telling touch on to the ball. As a result, the U’s sent a free header into an unguarded net for 3-0.
After a frantic opening to the second half, the game settled down following the away side’s third goal.
Gribble’s men enjoyed large spells of possession once again in some advanced areas, however, they couldn’t find a way past a solid-looking United backline.
The Grecians’ best opportunities to find a way back into the contest came courtesy of some half-chances, but as time ticked away, the Oxford team managed the game well and held on to their three-goal cushion to take home the win.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “The first goal may have been a little bit against the run of play, but that 10-minute period was key, where the boys lost their concentration. They got caught up in the emotion of conceding the first goal, and we lost our focus on what we were trying to do. Our game-plan up to that point was working, and we were more than equal to Oxford, but our lapse in concentration cost us in the end.
“We have got to take the positives away from here. We took what we wanted from the previous match into here and we delivered on that, but that 10-minute lapse is certainly something the team can learn from. If we can quickly stay in control of our minds, and stay on task we give ourselves a better chance. The longer this game stayed at 1-0, I genuinely believe we had a chance of getting something. But fair play to Oxford, they hit us while we were down, Games can turn quickly, and the players have got to understand that the opponent has as much of a right to win as we do.
“I’m pleased with the way the players went about their jobs, and pleased with the intensity in our play. We showed good quality at times, but we didn’t turn those half-chances into goals. We are creating the chances, and getting in good areas though. Our end product is improving, but here we played an opposition that restricted us. Even at 3-0, the boys regained their composure and showed more good quality on the ball.
“We have good players in the group, but the psychological character of a professional sportsman is vital, so we have to learn to control our emotions. When the game is tight, and you lose focus and lose sight of what you are trying to achieve, good teams will end up punishing you. We will have to try and ensure we stay in these type of matches for longer.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Alfie Pond, Toby Neville, Ellis Johnson, Max Clark, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Jamie Nicholson, Nelson Iseguan, Harry Ford, Sonny Cox
Subs: Zeph Collins, Eli Collins, Charlie Hanson, Alfie Clark