Exeter City’s Under-18s continued their preparations for the new Youth Alliance season thanks to a goalless draw against Barnstaple Town on Saturday.
The young Grecians put in a performance full of promise and character, and, despite drawing a blank in front of goal at the weekend, Head Coach Chad Gribble was left pleased with where his team were in terms of their pre-season regime.
City’s third week, however, began on the Cliff Hill Training Ground pitches as workloads increased and training sessions rose in intensity. Gribble explained how he asked for a step from the players.
“We went into week three with the idea of giving the boys more work, building on the physicality and intensity from the previous few weeks. We’ve had no injuries which is a bonus and everyone is fit.
"Now is about finding a balance in getting the players fitness levels up and making sure everyone is getting through the sessions.”
As the weekend approached, the intention for Exeter’s young squad was to prepare for a trip to Shrewsbury Town U18s for a different kind of footballing test, however, a call in the middle of the week reporting that the Shrews had a few cases of COVID in their squad meant that plans had to be altered. Gribble explained that despite the unfortunate news, they were still able to prepare for a match.
“It was quite lucky we hadn’t done any preparation for the Shrewsbury game after we received a midweek call telling us that they had some COVID cases in their camp.
"But Barnstaple Town came to us on Saturday instead with a type of Under-23s squad, with four or five senior players, and then a group of younger players who they were looking at signing.
"In a way, it proved to be the perfect opponent because of where we were at in pre-season, and the number of Under-16s we were involving.”
In the end, the Grecians ended up drawing 0-0 with Barum in what was a productive match, with Gribble stretching the minutes out for his scholars to around 60 minutes of game time. During that first hour, City looked rather dominant, and created five or six decent opportunities, with Joe Wragg hitting the crossbar with their best opening, and Charlie Hanson going close on a couple of occasions.
In the final 30 minutes, the Head Coach introduced his Under-16s from the bench, which in turn saw a shift in momentum in favour of the visitors. However, despite having their backs to the wall, the ECFC Under-16s stand up to the challenge and embraced the experience, and looked dangerous on the break through George Spencer.
Gribble admitted what a great test the game ended up being for his players.
“The players didn’t find out that they had a game until the Friday, and we didn’t know a lot about them.
"That meant there was no real tactical work done in preparation and the boys had to solve problems out on the pitch. What it showed was how powerful their exposure to Under-18s football at the end of last season was because they had to problem solve a lot of those times too.
“It was really pleasing all-round. Credit to the Under-16s as they really stood up and did well to come away with a clean sheet. We just lacked a bit of a cutting edge in the final third. We took our chances against Torquay United U18s last time out, but that was just missing from our performance here.