Exeter City’s under-18s recorded a 1-1 draw away to Cheltenham Town under-18s in the Youth Alliance South West division on Tuesday afternoon.
In a scrappy affair, the young Grecians found a lot of joy down the wide channels, and through good work from Nelson Iseguan, took the lead just before the break courtesy of an own goal.
The second period belonged to the Robins however, and despite the City defence defending stoutly for the majority of the half, an equaliser came five minutes from time as they capitalised on a loss on possession in the middle of the park.
The draw here has seen Chad Gribble’s side solidify their third spot in the league standings, before a quick turnaround sees them take on table-toppers AFC Bournemouth U18s on Saturday.
Following their win over Newport County U18s at the weekend, Exeter’s youngsters were looking to use that result as a momentum starter ahead of their tricky fixture with Cheltenham.
But the opening stages were rather even, and the tough conditions made things difficult for both teams.
As the game settled into more of a rhythm after a quarter of an hour, the visitors began finding more of the space opening up down the sides. That led to some signs of encouragement for the Grecians, as some neat combinations, particularly from Iseguan and Alfie Clark on the left-wing, began causing their opponents problems.
Ellis Johnson on the opposite flank was also marauding forward, and at the midway point of the first period, he twice threatened during a positive City spell. One cross from the full-back narrowly evaded his teammates, while desperate defending put a halt to another charge from Johnson.
The brightest moments from Gribble’s men continued to come from approach play out wide, and they were finally rewarded for their endeavours in the 43rd minute when Iseguan pressurised the home defence again. The winger’s cross headed towards the defender at the near post, but he failed to deal with the situation, and ultimately turned the ball past his own goalkeeper to hand Exeter the lead.
Town's response came after half-time as they committed bodies forward in their quest to get on the front foot.
Despite the away side repelling the initial attacks from the Robins, a continuous assault on the Grecians’ goal came with little respite.
With the possession that did fall their way, City looked to spring a counter-attack, and substitute Frank Lovett was unlucky to see play break down in the final third when he attempted a through pass to fellow forward Sonny Cox.
Not long after, Charlie Hanson broke down the right-hand side for Gribble’s team, but instead of looking for the pass, the striker shot for goal and the ball was only fired into the side netting.
At the other end of the pitch, ‘keeper Jack Arthur was being put through a lot of work, and he performed well in coming out and dealing with aerial balls. However, with time running down, the goalie was eventually beaten.
After another long pass was cleared by the Exeter backline, the ball fell into the central area where Alex Moyse looked to gather possession. The midfielder's loose touch allowed the opposition to nip in and take full advantage, as the ball was put beyond Arthur to level the scores with just five minutes remaining.
Little time was left to reply to the Cheltenham goal, leaving both teams having to settle for a point, at the end of a tight 90 minutes in difficult conditions.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “We never got control of the game. In the first half, we didn’t move the ball quick enough and didn’t have a purpose in our play. With our goal coming from a ricochet, it tells its own story. In the second period, they put pressure on us in a different way, and we lost even more quality and control.
“The positives came from individual performances rather than the collective one. Irrespective of the group we put out, we have got to be better as a team. I think we got caught up with trying to match up with them, but you have got to find a way to be yourselves.
“Jack Veale was outstanding, and controlled things in midfield, while Jack Arthur faced a different test but was fantastic in coming out for the crosses. Zeph Collins did a good job out of position, and Ed James, for a young centre-back, competed well with his aerial duels, which, a few games ago against Swindon, he struggled with, so I have to credit him. What this game showed was that certain individuals have made a lot of good developments, and showed that they can play in this type of football match.
“We play AFC Bournemouth next, which will be a different type of game. I hope the last couple of performances haven’t knocked our confidence, because before this match we had a tough day at Swindon, and although we won against Newport we weren’t ourselves there. I have to say I’m pleased with our development though. I keep seeing progress, and the players have to keep believing in the process, because if we keep seeing individuals develop, we will put together a collective performance soon. If it comes against Bournemouth great, but if it doesn’t the boys will have to keep chipping away and keep working hard.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, 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, Harrison King