In contrast to last year’s disruptive summer courtesy of COVID-19, Exeter City’s under-18s have enjoyed a positive and productive fortnight since the players and staff reported back for pre-season training at the Cliff Hill Training Ground on June 28.
City's first seven days back were based around the players' fitness and conditioning, and saw the youngsters endure a full week’s worth of training, with no game scheduled for the weekend after, while improvements and tweaks were also made with certain things while everyone adjusted to full-time training once again.
That period also saw coach Jon-Paul Pittman begin his new role with the Grecians’ youth side alongside U18s Head Coach Chad Gribble, where the American-born former striker will assist in all Under-18s matters, and pass on his knowledge and experience from his time as a professional footballer on to the new crop of Exeter proteges. Gribble believes that Pittman's appointment will end up being hugely beneficial for his side. "This is a positive step forward and provides us with another pair of hands to help me and the other members of staff out. He has plenty of experience from his playing career, and he has been received really well by all of the players."
In week two, Gribble wanted his players to build on their positive habits from the first week, and to continue to improve their fitness levels. It was also a time when the new scholars were introduced to the group, as the players looked to familiarise themselves with one another, and build on the relationships they started to form at the back end of the 2020/21 season.
Following more constructive training sessions, City’s players faced their first acid test when they came up against Torquay United’s Under-18s in an exhibition match on July 10th. In total, 22 players were in Gribble’s matchday squad, which included some members of the new ECFC under-16s, giving those individuals early exposure to U18s football.
In the end, the Grecians ran out comfortable winners in terms of a scoreline, however, their convincing victory didn’t reflect the challenge they faced, as The Gulls posed Exeter some real questions. In reflection of the game, Gribble admitted, “There were some pleasing elements for sure, but we were a bit slow in some areas of our play. We were playing with tired bodies, as you would expect in pre-season, but it was certainly good to get some match minutes in the legs. Their Under-16s and Under-17s had just finished playing their season out so that made the physical demands that much tougher. It was very un-pre-season like with the fact that we were good in front of goal, and finished off the chances we created well. It was certainly a nice way to end what was a positive week.”
This week has seen the coaching staff hard at work with the players on the training pitches once again, before the squad travel away to Shrewsbury Town for their next challenge. Ahead of their contest in Shropshire, Gribble acknowledged the game against the Shrews will be another stern hurdle for his players to overcome, before four more tests come round off City’s pre-season schedule.
“We play Shrewsbury away this coming weekend, where we are expecting tougher kind of game, and a step up in quality. After that, we go to two games in a week, and play Mousehole AFC, who are a men’s team and will provide us with a different kind of test, before we play Charlton at the weekend, where the level of Academy rises again. We then play midweek again against Dorchester, who are another men’s side, before we end with a tournament at Stevenage on the 31st July, where we will play a variety of different teams and styles, and will hopefully provide us with a number of challenges.”
Those remaining exhibition matches will provide Gribble and his players the best kind of preparation thanks to the different kinds of tests ahead, and will arguably put the Exeter players in the best shape possible ahead of their 2021/20 Youth Alliance League campaign which kicks off on Saturday 7th August.