Exeter City’s under-18s finished off their pre-season fixtures in style with a comprehensive 3-0 victory away at Swansea City’s under-18s at the weekend.
After a cagey opening, Frank Lovett broke the deadlock just before the interval, before Swansea looked like they may come back into the game early in the second half.
But Jamie Nicholson netted the Grecians’ second goal, and Sonny Cox wrapped up the victory with 10 minutes remaining.
With another pre-season win under their belts, Exeter’s youngsters will be hoping to take this performance into next weekend when they kick off their Youth Alliance League campaign at home to Yeovil Town under-18s.
Saturday saw Chad Gribble and his squad travel to Wales for one final friendly match before they returned to competitive action for the new season.
In a slow start to proceedings, the opening 20 minutes saw the teams trade spells in possession, with the Devonians unable to capitalise when they won the ball back high up the pitch.
The Swans sat off their opponents which gave the visitors plenty of time on the ball, however it wasn’t until midway through the first half when the Grecians started to settle and gain control.
Despite lacking real quality in the final third of the pitch, an increase in intensity off the ball allowed the Exeter players to apply plenty of pressure on their opponents, and it wasn’t until the 40th minute when that finally led to a goal.
A brilliant interception from Ellis Johnson saw another turnover in possession, and his through ball found Lovett, who cooly finished first time past the goalkeeper to hand Gribble’s side the breakthrough.
After half-time, the hosts altered their formation and approach, which in hand gave them a foothold in the game and a bit of control.
Two decent saves from Harry Lee kept it at a one-goal game, and once the away side were able to get through that early Swansea pressure, they were able to figure out how to regain control of the contest.
Through all of their effort in trying to find an equaliser, the Swans ran out of steam after an hour. The Devon outfit were able to take advantage of their fatigued counterparts by adding a second on 68 minutes.
A misplaced pass in midfield was picked up by Nicholson, and created a yard of space before firing the ball into the bottom corner to double his side’s lead.
Twelve minutes later, another intercepted ball in midfield led to Cox unleashing a left-footed strike past the Swansea goalkeeper to make it 3-0 to the Grecians.
Gribble’s men were unlucky not to score again when Cox hit the crossbar, and Harry Ford squandered a late chance, which meant the Grecians returned home with just the three-goal victory, and an encouraging performance, that they can take into next weekend’s Youth Alliance League match.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “I really liked the way we played after the first 20 minutes, but, during the opening 20 minutes, we were below our normal standards with our use of the ball. We weren’t productive enough, and we weren’t energetic and on the front foot in our defending. On another day that might put us on the back foot and the boys know we can’t start like that in the future.
“Swansea are a bit behind us in terms of their pre-season because the COVID-19 restrictions have been different in Wales. But we’ve faced them before and they have been a very good opponent. At times in the game, they showed high quality in possession, and moved the ball from back to front in just four or five seconds.
“But we reduced those moments from them, aside from the 15 minutes after half-time when they really threatened. We didn’t expect their change of approach, so we had to adapt, but credit has to go to the players for staying in the game, figuring out what was needed, and getting back on top once again.
“Being aggressive and on the front foot defensively is part of the Exeter City way, and it is what this game required. We had two choices in how we wanted to defend, and we decided to take their control away. They are a good opponent, but we wanted to show who we were, and we are pleased we stuck to our principles, rather than defend in a way that suited them.
“The pandemic has made things uncertain for everybody going into the Youth Alliance season. In previous years everyone had a similar time frame to get their squad ready for the competitive fixtures, but this year is rather an unknown. Have we made progress over pre-season? Yes. Did we manage to tie things together in this match? Yes. But it will be different next week. It is a bit of a local derby, and we won’t be going into that thinking we’ve done enough to get a win. The players have to try and make marginal gains every day.”