Exeter City’s under-18s advanced to the semi-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup following an eventful 6-3 home victory over Yeovil Town under-18s on Wednesday afternoon.
A dominant first period saw the young Grecians score inside the opening minute through Sonny Cox, before two quickfire goals at the midpoint of the half from Cox and Eli Collins made it 3-0.
Two more strikes just before the break from Edward James and Charlie Hanson gave City a commanding lead, however, a strong second-half response from the Glovers saw them find the back of the net three times before the 68th minute.
Exeter’s youngsters retook control of the contest and netted their sixth of the game with 21 minutes remaining through Hanson’s second goal. The emphatic victory means they progress to the final four, where they set up a semi-final tie against Gillingham on 27th March.
Chad Gribble’s team looked to make a statement in their clash with Yeovil, and they accomplished that with a goal inside the first 35 seconds following a turnover of possession in the midfield. Cox was quickly slipped through, and the forward, who had wriggled free of the trailing defenders, finished cooly past the goalkeeper to make the early breakthrough.
The hosts dominated the opening quarter of an hour, where they moved the ball well and exploited the space they found down the middle of the pitch, as well in the wide channels.
As a result, the Grecians doubled their lead on 22 minutes when Hanson made inroads down the right flank. The forward cut inside and fed the ball to Cox, who created half a yard of space to bury a shot into the back of the net.
The waves of attacks continued to come onto the away goal, and two minutes later the score became 3-0. Nelson Iseguan got himself into an advanced area down the left-hand side, before his cross picked out Eli Collins, who buried his header with aplomb.
City continued on the front foot and controlled much of the possession and territory. Much of their build-up play was patient and precise, and it always seemed like the team had more goals in them.
In the 40th minute, Exeter struck again. Jack Veale’s corner located James, who towered above everyone to head the ball home and make it 4-0.
A minute before the interval, Gribble’s men converted their fifth of the afternoon with perhaps the goal of the game. A good combination between Iseguan and Zeph Collins saw the ball moved into midfield. Veale and Michael Lilley’s neat interchange released Iseguan down the wing, and his dangerous ball found Hanson at the back post, who fired the ball high into the net to compound Town’s first-half misery.
The second period again saw the home side start quickly, however, they were unable to increase the lead and squandered several half-chances during the opening period after the restart.
It was the Glovers who scored the day’s sixth goal when a long direct ball caught the Grecian defence napping. Yeovil’s players took full advantage of the lack of concentration and shot the ball into the back of the net to pull a goal back 12 minutes after the break.
That strike brought a renewed energy to the visitors’ ranks, and they struck again five minutes later when they switched play to the left. With City out of position and scrambling to get back, one Town player cut inside and arrowed a strike across Jack Arthur and inside the far upright to make it a seven-goal game.
The Glovers continued to look for more, and in the 67th minute, they reduced the deficit once again. Following some more direct play, a miscommunication between James and Toby Nevile allowed another Yeovil player to nip in behind the pair, ignore all the offside appeals and tuck the ball home to make it 5-3.
Following that calamity, Exeter’s players regained their composure and retook control of proceedings.
In the 69th minute, Gribble’s side re-established a three-goal advantage when good work by Eli Collins on the right flank saw him get forward and slide the ball into the path of Hanson. The forward collected the ball and finished accurately into the bottom corner to hand his team the momentum once again.
The final quarter of the match belonged to the hosts, who enjoyed numerous long spells with the ball and created further chances to increase their lead. Substitute Frank Lovett came close with one effort, while Hanson was denied his hat-trick when the opposition ‘keeper saved his one-on-one chance.
When full-time sounded, the Grecians left the field with mixed emotions. Despite being delighted they had reached the latter stages of the Youth Alliance Cup, they will know that there will be plenty of things to improve on if they wish to get past the Gills in the semi-finals later this month.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “We came away from the game with a strange feeling. It is not often you leave the pitch disappointed having scored six goals. For 20 minutes of that second half we were not at the levels we needed to be. We went away from our standards and the good habits that got us such a commanding lead in the first period. The game got scrappy and maybe we got carried away wanting to score more goals. We wanted to be ruthless, but we lost the basics and should have been thinking about trying to keep a clean sheet.
"However, there were plenty of positives for sure. I’m delighted with our quick start because we haven’t had that for some time. We got our game going quickly and nullified their threat early on, and we scored a real mixture of goals that came from different players. We played with purpose and had a clear understanding of how we wanted to play. Yeovil set up differently to how we expected them to, but the players solved that, so credit has to go to them.
“We face Gillingham in the semis. We do, and we will look at them in our preparations, but firstly we’ll approach the game focusing on ourselves, and see how our principles match up with theirs. They got a good result against Oxford United in the last round, who we know are a good side and recently won the Youth Alliance South West division, so we will definitely be expecting a tough game, but we wouldn’t expect anything less in a semi-final. But it will provide another chance for these players, and these experiences will be vital for their development in the long-term.
“The players certainly step up in these kinds of games, but we don’t approach them any differently. What the players certainly do have is an appetite to play another football match, and the opportunity to play someone different, or like in the FA Youth Cup, the chance to play at a stadium. These cup ties are incentive-based, but all matches can be like that, and the team always seems to go after the rewards that are on offer. Winning is a nice habit, and this season we’ve done that well at times, and not so well at other times. What this group does well is find a way to win games, which is certainly a nice trait to have.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Ellis Johnson, Edward James, Toby Nevile, Zeph Collins, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Eli Collins, Nelson Iseguan, Charlie Hanson, Sonny Cox
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Alex Moyse, Jamie Nicholson, Frank Lovett