Following last week’s exhibition match with West Bromwich Albion, Exeter City’s Academy had their Under-17s players test themselves against a Cheltenham Town U17s squad at the Cliff Hill Training Ground at the weekend as they continue to prepare themselves for the start of next season.
The Grecians won Saturday’s contest 4-1, which saw many of the players put in a solid performance that will only encourage Chad Gribble and his coaching staff going forward.
Gribble used the friendly match as another opportunity to expose the Under-16s to football at a higher level, and wanted the group, as a whole, to build from what was a positive game last week.
City’s youngsters certainly did that from the first whistle, displaying real intent in their play, as it was evident they wanted to get on the front foot early on.
The game was just six minutes old when Exeter made the breakthrough. Alfie Clark beat one defender down the left wing before he sent in a lovely cross that found Mitch Beardmore, who headed the ball home from close range.
The goal typified the early control Gribble’s men had on proceedings as the Devon outfit regularly used their passing game to work their way up through the thirds. Without the ball, the hosts defended their penalty area stoutly, and Andrew Sowden in between the sticks had very little to do.
As the half wore on, the Grecians became a real threat thanks to their quick regains, which in turn had their opponents pinned back. In the 40th minute, City doubled their advantage when they stole the ball back from a Robins counter-attack. Exeter's trialist slid Charlie Hanson through on goal, and the forward hit his shot back across the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
In the second half, Cheltenham started well with a more aggressive setup, which saw them pull a goal back three minutes after the restart. Town’s left midfielder displayed some neat skill to get himself into a dangerous area, before he sent a looping ball that caught Sowden out into the top corner.
That conceded effort sprung Gribble’s side back into life, and from that moment, they dominated the majority of the play.
On 53 minutes Hanson located the trialist with a sumptuous cross, and he converted with devastating effect to re-establish the Devonians’ two-goal lead.
Just after the hour mark, it became a five-goal game when Hanson scored his second of the day. The trialist produced neat footwork before play was switched with a precise cross-field pass. Hanson met the ball with a powerful volley which gave the away goalkeeper no chance for 4-1.
Jamie Nicholson was introduced from the Grecians' bench to get some more much-needed minutes, and he enjoyed a bright cameo as he helped his side continue to dictate the midfield area.
Nicholson’s energy saw him get forward well, and later on in the half, he was brought down in the 18-yard box, however, appeals for a foul were quickly waved away.
As time ticked down, Nicholson set up Hanson as City looked to wrap up the victory, but a good save denied the striker as he looked to complete his hat-trick. George Spencer also went close with a late chance, however, the game finished 4-1, with Gribble left rather pleased with how his young players got on.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “When we looked back at the West Brom match, we had 24 shots to their six or seven, and ended up losing 3-0, so we wanted to build from that performance, and add some finishing touches to our play. The Under-18s showed they were ruthless in their Youth Alliance Cup semi-final against Yeovil Town on Wednesday, so we wanted to look to replicate that because you never know how many chances you will end up getting in a game.
“We had some really well-taken goals. In this game we have managed to score four times from about six or seven chances, so we were much more clinical, and it was good to see the players who missed those chances last week, were the ones who scored here.
“We don’t want to get carried away. This is just one good display. It was your typical kind of friendly match where both teams made lots of changes and tried things out. I believe Cheltenham had a slightly younger squad because they ended the game with some younger players. Our group included some players that have already played Under-18s football, and been in and around the squad and on the bench, and I think with the help of these friendly games, they are starting to feel like more of a part of the group.
“Relationships are building daily. This was a squad of Under-16s and Under-17s. The younger players have experienced a successful season themselves, and now they are beginning to mix with individuals they might not have played with before. With a step up into Under-18s football comes added expectation. We haven’t spent as much time with them before now so we are trying things with them, changing their positions, because nothing is set in stone. This is a great opportunity to try lots of things because we can often forget how young these players are. We need to delve into everything they have got and see where they fit best with the attributes they possess. I must say I’m extremely pleased with our flow of the game here, because several players played different positions, but our play wasn’t disrupted.
“There are things that we still need to work on but this was certainly good progress. What we set out to do before the game we managed to achieve. We want to get as many of these types of games as we can, because this will only accelerate the players' development. We have no other friendlies lined up as of yet, but we want to do it again as these isolated games without the second-year scholars are important. What I have said to the whole group, the Under-18s, as well as the Under-16s coming through, is that there are now places up for grabs ahead of the start of the regional Merit League.
Exeter City Under-17s Squad: Andrew Sowden, Harrison King, Edward James, Toby Nevile, Zeph Collins, Gabriel Billington, Eli Collins, Mitch Beardmore, Jamie Nicholson, Alfie Clark, Charlie Hanson, George Spencer, A.T