Exeter City’s Under-18s quickly put Thursday’s FA Youth Cup exit out of their minds as they produced a wonderful first-half performance to beat Portsmouth U18s 4-0 on Saturday.
After a quick start to proceedings, the Grecians gained the early initiative when Mitch Beardmore scored on six minutes, before a Sonny Cox penalty doubled the lead shortly after.
George Spencer added an Exeter third in the 17th minute, and the forward grabbed his second of the day moments later when he tapped the ball into an unguarded net.
The emphatic victory in Hampshire sees City climb to third in the Youth Alliance South West division, just three points off the top, with games in hand on the two clubs above them in the table.
Chad Gribble and his young squad made the long journey eastwards as they looked to bounce back from the disappointment of their last outing, while hoping to avenge the defeat they suffered to Portsmouth when the two sides met at the Cliff Hill Training Ground back in September.
A determined away side took to the pitch and began on the front foot as they looked to make the most of the wind advantage they had in the first period.
Pompey found themselves pinned back into their own half, and struggled to get themselves further upfield, while in contrast, despite the difficult conditions and some scrappy phases of play, the Devon outfit seized control of the contest early and settled much quicker.
With just six minutes on the clock, the Grecians made their pressure count. The move began with Harrison King linking up with Cox, before the striker turned and moved play onto another teammate. Beardmore collected the ball and struck a first-time shot past the goalkeeper to make the early breakthrough.
Exeter’s youngsters asserted their dominance in the 12th minute when they doubled their advantage. With the ball bobbling around in the 18-yard box, Spencer recovered possession ahead of his opposite man, before the attacker was brought down illegally and a penalty was awarded; Cox stepped up and coolly slotted in the spot-kick for 2-0.
The waves of attack continued onto Pompey’s goal, and just five minutes later it became a three-goal game courtesy of another well-worked move. After some nice combination play down the left flank, Cox received the ball in a wide area, before he looked to slip in Beardmore. The inside pass proved to be too powerful for the wideman, however, Spencer latched onto the ball at the back post, and his effort arrowed past the ‘keeper to extend the visitors’ cushion.
And the scoring continued as we reached 18 minutes when Harry Lee’s long and direct goal kick was flicked on by Beardmore into the path of Cox. The striker rattled the post when through on goal, but on hand, Spencer reacted quickest to turn the ball home once again to make it 4-0.
The relentless nature of Gribble’s men continued as they dominated possession. More chances were created and they were unfortunate not to add a fifth when Joe O’Connor’s free-kick found Ed James, but the defender’s header was only good enough to strike the crossbar.
With half-time on the horizon, the Devonians once again came within a whisker of scoring when O’Conner delivered a corner to centre-back Toby Neville, however, the ball was eventually cleared off the goalline.
When the teams re-emerged from the half-time interval, it was evident the home side altered their shape as they looked for a way back into the contest.
Despite a scrappy opening period to the second period, the Grecians regained control without really threatening any openings. Exeter’s game management was excellent as they often invited their opponents onto them, which allowed them to play through the thirds and gain a bit of territory.
Beardmore had his side’s first opportunity of the second half, however, his shot was fired straight at the goalkeeper.
While Portsmouth remained determined to find a way through the City backline, it was the away team who looked more capable of scoring, even when they didn’t need to, courtesy of their strong grip on the contest and some intelligent passages of play.
Later on, with Gribble turning to his bench to help see the win through, more openings arose. Alfie Cunningham looked lively following his introduction and the replacement managed to slide in Cox, but the forward mis-hit his shot and the opportunity was spurned.
Fellow City sub, Charlie Hanson, also saw a chance go begging late on, but ultimately they’re misses changed very little, as the Devon club settled for the four-goal deficit, which was good enough to see them leapfrog Oxford United U18s into third, just three points behind table-toppers AFC Bournemouth Under-18s.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: "We thought Saturday was going to go one of two ways. Off the back of the FA Youth Cup match on Thursday night, we were either going to play really well or suffer from some sort of cup hangover. We are delighted that it ended up being the right result and right response, and the players were on it from the start. They played like a team possessed, and were aggressive and ruthless when they needed to be.
"After Thursday’s match, we were back in Friday and drew a line under the game. We didn’t quite hit those highs as we have done, and we could’ve been more ruthless to make it more competitive, but these games come around thick and fast. The FA Youth Cup game won’t define the players’ season or careers, and I am really pleased with their response, particularly on tired bodies, because we had to deliver a performance again. That was two sets of 90 minutes in three days for some of them, but we showed we were able to carry out how we wanted to play, and we showed signs of how fit we really are.
"It was a really good opening half an hour. Of course, we used the weather to help us, but we got on the front foot and killed the game early on. When you start with the wind, you have to make it count, especially when you have tired bodies and tired minds. But the group decided to start with the wind, we left that with them, but they wanted to try and get control early. That ended up being the right decision, so credit has to go to the players for making that call.
"We have two tough games against Oxford United and Bristol Rovers coming up before Christmas. We know that they will be very different, but tough in their own way. We’ll be looking to keep the rhythm we have, as not only does that provide a bit of momentum, but it keeps developing the players, and I think that is evident in some of our recent performances. The group is extremely hungry to keep improving.
"We’ve been really good on the road this season, so whatever the players are doing in terms of preparation, it is working really well. This is the best we have travelled since I have taken over as youth team coach, but I think it shows that the professionalism and mentality of the players is outstanding. At the moment, there are early starts, late returns, tough and heavy pitches, and some atrocious weather conditions, but we’ve managed to deal with all of that, which is a sign of the players being in a really good place, so long may it continue!”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Harrison King, Toby Nevile, Ed James, Max Edgecombe, Joe O’Connor, Michael Lilley, Gabriel Billington, Mitch Beardmore, George Spencer, Sonny Cox
Subs: Zeph Collins, Tom Dean, Eli Collins, Alfie Cunningham, Charlie Hanson