The fifth week of pre-season saw Chad Gribble and his squad perhaps endure their most difficult week to date following further COVID scares within the Under-18s’ camp, and a cancelled trip up to Stevenage.
This time around, City received some bad news in the subsequent COVID-19 test results. That meant a week that started with so much promise saw the youth team take half a step back in terms of their preparations. ECFC Under-18s Head Coach, Gribble, admitted however things didn’t change too much.
“We were due to play a game midweek, but we changed that in favour of training. We played a training game with a mix of Under-16s and Under-17s players as we had scholars involved in the Bristol City match, which was a fantastic opportunity for them. But it was that same day we received the news about the COVID scares, with the results being not so fantastic for us. From those results, we lost one player and started sorting out who was required to isolate.
“We put a hold on the tournament in Stevenage and came back in on Friday with a select group. That day we were meant to play a kind of showcase side, but we had more COVID scares so lost that fixture too. But a selection of individuals did train, and we are awaiting the results of the latest COVID scare, and seeing what we can do. Our first competitive game of the season against Oxford might not go ahead because of it, so things remain a little uncertain and ended up being one of the week’s where our pre-season preparations were hindered the most.”
While the news and test results weren’t ideal for Exeter’s youngsters, there was a silver lining for the Academy and Under-18s in terms of the Bristol City contest, and what the younger members of that squad were able to take away from their day. Gribble explained that their exposure to that game provided so much more for the players than any training session he could have organised.
“If I could have picked just one day to train the boys, the exposure the Bristol City match provided went above and beyond anything I could have done with them on the training pitch. Bristol City put out a strong side, and included Tomas Kalas who had just played for the Czech Republic in EURO 2020, Nahki Wells who is an established Championship striker, and Danny Simpson who won the Premier League with Leicester City.
“Whilst the game ended in a scoreline that wasn’t so pretty on the eye, this was an opportunity that the players won’t ever forget. This was a real chance for the boys to learn from, and one that 100 training sessions could never replicate.
“What they can take from that experience is a real sense of what the top-level looks like. Training with our first team is one thing, but this was an even higher level. Playing against players who have won the Premier League, and played at the EUROs was another level, and, at 17 and 18 years old, it has let them see how tough a step up to those levels is. It will have kept the players’ feet on the ground, and shown them how hard you have to work to reach that.”