Exeter’s City’s Under-18s saw their unbeaten run in the Youth Alliance South West division come to an end as they dropped to fourth in the league table following a 5-2 away defeat to Swindon Town at the weekend.
With a youthful-looking side out on the pitch, the Grecians looked rattled following Town’s opening strike after a quarter of an hour, which became 2-0 on 25 minutes.
Despite pulling a goal back through Jack Veale’s spectacular strike, further goals from the Robins either side of half-time meant Chad Gribble’s side had a three-goal deficit to claw back.
The hosts rattled in a free-kick midway through the second period to extend the lead, with Sonny Cox scoring a consolation in the final two minutes to add a silver lining to what was a difficult afternoon for Exeter’s youngsters.
City travelled to Wiltshire in hope that they could continue their impressive league form from recent weeks against a team fighting to get into the top half of the standings.
The Devonians started well as they looked to put down an early marker, and they created two chances during the opening exchanges. Both came down the right-hand flank, when the visitors won possession high up and countered quickly. However, Frank Lovett only brought two routine stops out of the Swindon goalkeeper to keep the scores deadlocked at 0-0 after 10 minutes.
Five minutes later however, Town created their first opportunity of the game and opened the scoring from it in the simplest of fashions. Following a short goal kick, the Robins cleared their lines, as the ball dropped in behind the Grecians’ defence. That allowed one home forward to run onto the ball and bury a shot past Jack Arthur to make the breakthrough.
That goal unsettled the Gribble’s young side, which resulted in Town controlling much of the next 10 minutes. Their domination of possession led to them doubling their advantage just past the midway point of the first half, when a long pass forward bobbled in and around the Exeter backline. One Robins attacker got around the press of Edward James, before he struck the ball into the bottom corner to make it two goals without reply.
In spite of the two-goal deficit, City still possessed belief going forward, and after winning a corner in the 30th minute they managed to pull a goal back. Captain Veale collected the initial clearance on the edge of the penalty area, before he unleashed an unstoppable half-volley that went in via the underside of the crossbar to hand his team a small lifeline.
However, the Devon club’s belief was quickly extinguished, when the hosts re-established their two-goal lead from the resulting kick-off. After working the ball down the wing, Swindon cut the ball back into a dangerous area, and one of their strikers tapped home to make it 3-1.
At half-time, the away team tried resetting themselves, however, Town continued to apply pressure on the Grecians’ goal after the restart. In the 55th minute, the lead was extended once again courtesy of another direct phase of play. One long ball caused troubled Gribble’s men, and bounced between the two centre-backs. That allowed a Robins’ forward to latch onto the ball and finish clinically to pile on more misery to the Exeter team.
Ten minutes later Swindon scored their best goal of the afternoon through a set-piece. Some desperate defending saw City concede a free-kick within shooting distance, which allowed a home player to whip the ball over the wall and into the top corner for 5-1.
Despite enduring a difficult day at one end of the pitch, the visitors did conjure up a second goal of their own in the 88th minute. After the ball was cleared to Veale, the skipper crossed the ball in for Cox, who buried a neat header into the back of the net to make it a seven-goal game.
Ultimately, even though the match ended in a heavy defeat, Gribble will be hoping his squad can learn from this experience, and take those lessons from it into their development. ECFC’s Under-18s may end up having a week off following the postponement of their midweek fixture against Yeovil Town U18s, which will allow the players to regroup and go again on the 6th February when they face Newport County.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “Whether Swindon Town knew it or not, we played with a very young and inexperienced backline. We were missing individuals because of injuries and illness, and there were some key moments in the game that you’d expect in more of a senior type of match which the younger players might not have been exposed to at Under-16s level. Fair play to Swindon for having the tactical nous to take advantage, but our boys are going to learn from this experience.
“I have to say well done to the team for not giving in, but these moments will only be good for us if they reflect on it, pick out the moments they could have done better on, and work on those. What football at this level allows you to have is some free hits, and, knowing the players we have, and the process we go through, the players will be better for this. Involving the younger players was always a part of our plan, but what having players missing allows you to do, is open up a pathway and opportunity for others.
“The first and fourth goals are really poor, and they are moments all players should be able to deal with. Swindon had us rattled, but it was probably a more competitive match than the scoreline suggests. But this type of experience for some of the players is the first time they’ve fought for points, and it was probably more competitive to what they’re used to. It was the first time we went with a really young line up, we handed another three full debuts out, and another two from the bench, but it presented an opportunity for these players to be stretched.
“We can look at this result in two ways. Immediately you are disappointed because we want to win, but when we reflect on it, the players will be better for it, including the second-year scholars. They will have to help the younger players now. I always like to see how a group respond after a defeat, because if you end up having a career in football, you may end up losing more games than you win, and how you bounce back says a lot about a player. There are always two sides to a defeat, but we’ll learn from this, and be ready to go again next time out.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Edward James, Toby Neville, Logan Laird, Alex Moyes, Jack Veale, Eli Collins, Alfie Clark, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Sonny Cox
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Gabriel Billington, George Spencer, Harrison King