Exeter City’s under-18s were left to rue missed opportunities as they came away from Saturday’s Regional Merit League fixture with Yeovil Town U18s with a 2-2 draw.
The Glovers opened the scoring after five minutes with a goal from Alfie Lloyd on the break, before Charlie Hanson levelled matters midway through the first half when he volleyed in Ellis Johnson’s superb cross.
The Grecians took the lead five minutes before the break when Eli Collins’ free-kick was headed home by Toby Nevile, however, a bright start to the second period saw Town deservedly equalise through Lloyd once again.
With ten minutes remaining, City’s youngsters squandered the best chance of a winner when Sonny Cox saw his penalty saved, meaning both teams took home a share of the spoils, and remain unbeaten after two matches.
Following their Devon Derby victory over Plymouth Argyle last weekend, Chad Gribble’s side were hoping to take some of that momentum into their clash with Yeovil; the beginning of what could potentially be a big week for some of the young players.
But arguably it was hosts that started the better as they sat in a low and compact shape, frustrating their counterparts as they looked to break them down.
The Glovers forced the Exeter side into inaccuracy and misplaced passes, which allowed them opportunities to counter-attack forward. Just before the five-minute mark, Town sprung forward with another swift break, and the ball was worked to Lloyd, who kept his composure to shoot past Jack Arthur in the away goal to make it 1-0.
The Grecians reacted to the setback well and they enjoyed plenty of positive spells of possession. Their ventures forward saw them get into promising areas of the pitch, however, Yeovil’s well-organised shape meant the creation of clear-cut chances were rather infrequent.
Encouraging signs began to unravel for City after a quarter of an hour, however, with Johnson and Frank Lovett particularly looking dangerous down the right-wing.
In the 20th minute that devastating combo linked up again when Lovett turned and slid in Johnson into an advanced position. The full-back delivered a delicious cross for Hanson, who met the ball with a powerful half-volley to restore parity.
The game continued in a similar vein, with Gribble’s men exploring the various ways to get around the stubborn home backline.
On 40 minutes, Zeph and Eli Collins combined well with Max Edgecombe, which saw Nelson Iseguan released down the left flank. The wideman won his team a free-kick, and Eli Collins curled in a wicked cross that found the head of Nevile, before the ball nestled into the back of the net to hand Exeter the advantage.
After half-time, the trend continued with the visitors hogging most of the possession. However, the Glovers became more productive with their use of the ball as they got more men forward as they looked to gain the upper hand in the territory statistics.
In response, the Grecians’ build-up play became a little forced, while without the ball, they started conceding free-kicks and corners that played into the hands of the opposition.
Following two warning signs from set-pieces, City conceded another corner following a quick Town break. Gribble’s men initially dealt with the first ball, however, a scramble ensued, and in the right place at the right time was Lloyd, who converted from close range to make it two goals apiece.
Yeovil gained confidence and built on that momentum shift following the leveller. The next 10 minutes was a controlling spell from the hosts, while Exeter became rather desperate by playing a more direct game.
Despite enjoying relatively little success going route one, the away side were handed a glorious chance to snatch the three points after 80 minutes. Hanson got himself in another threatening position before he was bundled over inside the penalty box. The referee awarded the spot-kick, however, substitute Cox was denied from 12 yards by a decent stop, which kept it at 2-2, giving both sides a deserved point when the full-time whistle blew 10 minutes later.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “I think the word frustration sums it up quite well. Yeovil set out to frustrate us and they did just that. We didn’t have enough quality and know-how in equal measures. Credit to them as they were a tough nut to crack, but we gave the ball away too often and we played into their hands.
“This is a fantastic lesson for us. We all know Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup match is coming up. That is a big game, but the distraction of it, and the complacency the players showed was disappointing. They went into this fixture with a mentality that they could just turn and get the job done, and truthfully, Yeovil were much tougher than that. We played fantastically well last time against them, and they played really well here. If our group showed more focus than things might have been different.
“There were long-term positives to come out of the game. We handed a full-debut to Max Edgecombe, and he delivered another positive performance, while we gave Harrison King a league debut for the Under-18s also. We finished the match with an extremely young team, and the more exposure these young players get at this level is only going to be a positive, so I’m certainly pleased about that.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Ellis Johnson, Toby Nevile, Zeph Collins, Max Edgecombe, Michael Lilley, Alex Moyse, Eli Collins, Nelson Iseguan, Charlie Hanson, Frank Lovett
Subs: Edward James, Alfie Pond,