Exeter City’s under-18s returned to winning ways in the Youth Alliance South West division with a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Newport County’s under-18s at the weekend.
Following an even start, Charlie Hanson broke the deadlock after 17 minutes, though the Grecians had to remain patient despite being in control throughout the rest of the first half.
City doubled their lead 13 minutes into the second period when Michael Lilley collected the ball on the edge of the Exiles’ box and fired a brilliant half-volley out of the goalkeeper’s reach into the back of the net.
The game was put beyond all doubt eight minutes from time when Nelson Iseguan set up Sonny Cox for Exeter’s third, and even though County scored a consolation in injury time, the Devonians weren’t going to be denied the victory when the full-time whistle sounded.
Following a week without any competitive action, Chad Gribble’s youngsters began their first game back with real intent. In a positive opening 10 minutes, they enjoyed the bulk of the territory, and the visitors, with their short passing style, found themselves struggling to play out.
But the Welsh outfit settled afterwards, and enjoyed a bright spell that troubled the home team, and pinned them back in their own half. But, in repelling most of the Newport attacks, the Grecians often looked to break forward quickly, and they looked more likely to score.
City’s swift counter-attacks led to the opening goal, when they won possession back on their left flank. After moving the ball on quickly, Iseguan slipped a pass into the path of the overlapping run from Alfie Clark, and his centre was tucked home by Hanson to make it 1-0.
The goal injected more purpose into the Exeter ranks, as they got themselves higher up the pitch and became more aggressive. As a result, Hanson posed more of a threat to the Exiles defence, and looked to add to the scores when he flashed a ball across the face of the County goal on the half an hour mark.
Eli Collins saw a 20-yard effort blocked as the clock ticked down to half-time, but even though Gribble’s men appeared to be in control, the game still hung in the balance with the away side causing issues every time they sprung forward with their quick passing game.
The Welshmen continued with that intensity after the interval, and despite seeing some bright spells of possession, they rarely threatened Harry Lee’s goal, and it was the hosts that scored the second goal of the afternoon in the 58th minute.
Following another Grecians cross, Newport cleared the ball to the edge of their own penalty area. Lilley reacted quickest to the loose ball, and the midfielder demonstrated fantastic technique as he shot for goal, riffling a left-footed half-volley into the bottom corner to increase City's advantage.
The Exiles’ misery continued five minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men after Hanson was brought down and the culprit received his second booking of the game.
As a result, County lost their shape, which made proceedings rather comfortable for Exeter’s players. Thanks to their prolonged periods of possession, Gribble’s team should have extended their lead further through forages forward from Cox and Frank Lovett.
Eventually it did become a three-goal game, with Cox netting in the 82nd minute. After a turnover of possession in midfield, Iseguan attacked down the wing. His dangerous cross located the young striker, who converted his effort from close-range to give his team a three-goal cushion.
In the second minute of injury time, the visitors got themselves on the scoresheet as a reward for their forward endeavours despite the earlier red card. Some individual magic in the middle of the park saw their attacking midfielder roll the ball under Lee to make it 3-1.
But it was all a little too late as the home side comfortably held on to their advantage, and earned the three points that took them back up to third in the league standings.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “We are pleased with the result, and we know winning is a good habit to have, but the staff all felt like we wanted more from the team, particularly after the red card. We didn’t control things in the way we would have liked, and the three chances we had when we had the man advantage have got to be taken. On a day when we could have been dominant, we weren’t really, and we explained to the players that our standards need to be a bit higher than what we displayed.
“We were compact early on when they had their bright spell, and we took the sting out of their game. They didn’t really look a threat, but we got sloppy when they went down to 10 men, and we conceded at a time when we shouldn’t have been so open. We should have made sure of the clean sheet, and we didn’t. Those habits are something we need to have, and that was more of the message we gave to the players. There are certain standards that we’ve had in place during the course of this year, and they need to show those on a more regular basis.
“We picked some of the younger players again. Ed James had a tough day last time out, but he, and the others who played against Swindon have worked on their games and developed. Alfie Clark got an assist and played another 90 minutes, this time in a different position, and he did a fantastic job despite being way out of his comfort zone.
“We have a big squad now, and we will keep giving players opportunities. The younger players were exposed to something they’ve never seen before here, and against Cheltenham Town on Tuesday, they’ll face a different kind of test. As we saw from the FA Youth Cup game earlier in the season, Cheltenham are physical and disruptive, so it will be tough, but it'll provide us with a good challenge, and one our players should look forward to.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Ellis Johnson, Edward James, Zeph Collins, Alfie Clark, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Eli Collins, Nelson Iseguan, Sonny Cox, Charlie Hanson
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Alex Moyse, Frank Lovett, Gabriel Billington, Harrison King