Exeter City’s under-18s finished off their Youth Alliance South West division fixtures with a 2-1 home victory over Forest Green Rovers under-18s on Saturday.
Against the run of play, the visitors took the lead in the 15th minute through a deflected strike, however, a positive response from the Grecians saw Charlie Hanson level matters midway through the first period.
Just before half-time, City struck again when Jack Veale’s free-kick found Toby Nevile, who headed past a stranded Rovers goalkeeper to complete the turnaround.
Despite some challenging conditions in the second period, Chad Gribble’s side defended well enough to hold on to their lead, to come away with an important three points that meant they secured third place in the league standings.
Exeter’s youngsters were looking for some sort of reaction following last week’s defeat to AFC Bournemouth U18s, and, thanks to their early control and sharp passing, their bright start settled any pre-match tension.
Inside the opening 10 minutes, they created the first chance of the game when Frank Lovett attacked with real intent down the right-wing. The attacker delivered a dangerous ball across the face of the Forest Green goal which just evaded Nelson Iseguan who looked to apply the telling touch at the back post.
However, despite all of the encouraging signs early on, it was FGR who broke the deadlock after a quarter of an hour. Following a counter-attack down the left flank, the Grecians were unable to fully clear their lines, and the resulting strike went past Jack Arthur in the hosts’ goal via a cruel deflection.
In spite of the misfortune, City proceeded with their game-plan, and soon picked up control of the contest by exploiting the space left by their opponents.
Their supremacy led to some neat passages of play, and they were rewarded with a deserved equaliser on 25 minutes. Following another attack down the right side, Lovett’s centre located the superb run of Hanson, who tapped the ball home in at the near post to restore parity.
The Devon outfit remained the more dominant force as the first half went on, and they eventually doubled their goal tally from a set-piece just a few minutes before the interval. Captain Veale drove his free-kick into a threatening position, where Nevile rose highest to meet the ball. With the away ‘keeper committed to the aerial duel, Nevile’s touch sent the ball into the back of the unguarded net to make it 2-1.
Weather conditions worsened in the second period, which resulted in Rovers altering their approach. Following the switch of ends, Gribble’s men found themselves not only battling the wind, but also the direct style Forest Green had now adopted.
Despite FGR hoping to pin Exeter back into their own half, it was the home team who created the best opportunity for the fourth goal with the best move of the game. Following a break down the left channel, the ball was switched to Ellis Johnson on the opposite side. The full-back fed Veale in the centre, before his through ball found Nelson Iseguan. The winger beat three defenders with a mazy dribble before the goalkeeper pulled off a fantastic stop to keep his team in it.
The visitors however still led the territory statistics with their long forward passes. On the hour mark, Arthur displayed quick reactions when he sprinted out to make a crucial interception to stop Rovers from bearing down on his goal.
The shot-stopper, alongside the defence in front of him, continued to work extremely hard during the rest of the second half, dealing with first and second balls particularly well to ensure that no clear-cut opportunities fell Forest Green’s way.
It meant that the hosts recorded a hard-fought victory when the full-time whistle sounded, meaning Gribble’s side accumulated 34 points, and third position, in the Youth Alliance South West division standings.
Other clubs have yet to complete their league fixtures, but City’s matches in this league format have now come to a close. Despite that, the majority of the players’ season will continue this coming weekend with an Under-17s exhibition match taking place against West Bromwich Albion.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “I’m really pleased with our first-half performance. Their goal came from nothing, but from the way we started, and the way we continued after we had conceded, I could tell that we had goals in us.
“In the second half, Forest Green played in a way that we didn’t expect. We knew that they would try and muster up a response but it was a different test to what we were anticipating, and the players stood up to it and found a way to play against it.
“When we went behind we stayed composed. There was a nice mentality to the players and we weren’t rattled by it. That was probably led by Alfie Pond at the back, but the midfield were good, and Nelson [Iseguan], Frank [Lovett] and Charlie [Hanson] always looked lively.
“The players would have felt a bit of pressure going into it. They would have checked the league table and saw that this was a chance to finish third in the standings. But I’m pleased with how the players played under that pressure. We had a positive second-half last week against AFC Bournemouth, and although we were challenged differently here, the players referred back to previous matches when they faced that kind of test to come through it.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Ellis Johnson, Alfie Pond, Toby Nevile, Zeph Collins, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Eli Collins, Nelson Iseguan, Charlie Hanson, Frank Lovett
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Edward James, Alex Moyse, Jamie Nicholson, Joe O’Connor