Exeter City’s under-18s were eliminated from the FA Youth Cup on Thursday evening after a 2-0 defeat to AFC Bournemouth U18s at St James Park.
On a cold December night, Alan Connell's side didn’t take long to get going as they made an early breakthrough through Michael DaCosta-Gonzalez when he headed in Marcus Daws’ corner after just the six minutes.
Mitch Beardmore blew the hosts' best first half opportunity, and the Cherries took full advantage of that during the opening moments of the second period, when he capitalised on a loose pass to tuck the ball past Harry Lee.
The Grecians came close to pulling a goal back through both Joe Wragg and Eli Collins, but ultimately finding a way through proved a step too far, and so the Dorset club held on to seal their place in the fourth place of the prestigious youth cup.
Both sides looked to get on the front foot early, as they looked to implement their own style on the contest. Despite several surges forward from the Grecians, it was Bournemouth’s DaCosta-Gonzalez who had the tie’s first real shot at goal when he let fly from long-range, however his effort was deflected over the top.
Even though the initial corner was dealt with, a second set-play just moments later led to the early breakthrough. Daws' delivery was met by an unchallenged header from DaCosta-Gonzalez at the near post, and he thundered a header past a helpless Harry Lee to make it 1-0.
The response from Chad Gribble’s team was bright however, and both Toby Nevile and Wragg stung the hands of Cherries goalkeeper, Ollie Camis, but neither shot really troubled the scores.
The second goal almost arrived at the other end, when some bright play between Noa Boutin and Archie Harris saw the Dorset club advance down the left flank. A low ball into the centre seemed to locate Daniel Adu-Adjei, however, the forward wasn’t able to get any meaningful touch, and somehow the ball stayed out.
After such a frantic start, the tempo started to die down past the midpoint of the half, when chances became less frequent. DaCosta-Gonzalez’s mazy run ended with a shot into the side netting on 23 minutes, while Bournemouth midfielder, Daws, fired a shot wide not long after.
Bright play from DaCosta-Gonzalez and full back Finn Tonks saw the Cherries start an attack down the right side on the half-hour mark, however Adu-Adjei failed to convert from the resulting centre.
For all of what the visitors had created however, the best opening for a second goal of the night arrived at the other end eight minutes before the interval. A throw in to Sonny Cox saw the forward weave his way to the byline, before his cross was turned away by the defence. The loose ball fell to the feet of Beardmore, but the winger blazed a half-volley well over when it appeared easier to score.
That meant at half-time it remained a one-goal game, however, just two minutes into the second period, the Cherries netted again through the ever-dangerous DaCosta-Gonzalez. The winger pounced on an erratic midfield pass, dribbled into the penalty area and rode a few tackles before firing low past Lee to double the away side’s advantage.
Exeter’s youngsters tried to muster a reply, and the willing runs of winger Joe Wragg typified the attitude of the City ranks. Wragg’s mazy dribble led to a shot from the wide-man, but it was tipped round by Camis.
The momentum truly swung in favour of the home side, and five minutes later, Edgecombe and Beardmore linked up, before the ball was teed up for Michael Lilley to shoot from range. However, his curling effort whistled just past the post via a slight deflection.
Just past the hour mark, the Grecians created their best chance since the break when Cox worked his way down the left side. He found Gabriel Billington with an inside pass, before his centre located Eli Collins. Collins’ effort looked in, however, it was blocked by Wragg, which then led to the latter poking an effort agonisingly past the far post much to the frustration of the 315-strong crowd.
Wragg then saw a cross-shot blocked for a corner, but his team were fortunate not to concede a third at the midway point of the second 45 when Harrison King dwelled on the ball. Boutin stole possession and dribbled towards Lee’s goal, however, the defender could only shoot into the side netting.
Changes were made by both coaches as they both searched for that all-important third goal of the contest.
Alfie Pond, Charlie Hanson and George Spencer were all brought on to conjure something up, however the visitors were the side who almost netted again when Harris tried his luck from a free-kick, but Lee was equal to the curling strike.
Wragg’s magical footwork in the 89th minute opened up another Exeter chance, but he could only send his shot from distance wide.
But that chance rather summed the home side on the night, and despite a flurry of late hopeful shots by the young Grecians, referee Mark Senior called time, sending the Cherries through to the fourth round, as they avenged last season’s FA Youth Cup defeat at St James Park with a victory and clean sheet here.
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Toby Nevile, Ed James, Harrison King, Max Edgecombe, Gabriel Billington, Michael Lilley, Eli Collins, Joe Wragg, Mitch Beardmore, Sonny Cox,
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Alfie Pond, Zeph Collins, Alfie Cunningham, Joe O’Connor, Charlie Hanson, George Spencer