Exeter City’s Academy sent an under-17s side to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday to help with their development in preparation for next season’s under-18s Youth Alliance South West division.
The Grecians enjoyed a productive day in the Midlands, and despite losing 3-0 to the Premier League club, they could have come away with a victory.
The friendly match was organised so that Chad Gribble and the rest of the City coaches could assess the players, whilst providing the team with some competitive action that they could build from going forward.
The game itself was played in three periods of 30 minutes, and Exeter’s youngsters, who included a number of Under-16s in their ranks, as well as a trialist, began the first session brightly with plenty of signs of encouragement.
It was evident from the early moments that both teams had a particular style they wanted to implement in their play. Following a strong defensive structure, Gribble’s side found themselves winning possession on several instances in the middle third of the pitch, which gave them the opportunities to mount their attacks.
The Grecians’ short passing game meant they were able to break forward with purpose on numerous occasions, however, a lack of precision in the offensive areas meant City were unable to really trouble the Baggies goalkeeper.
West Brom also enjoyed heir own spells of positive build-up play, but a lack of quality from them at the top end of the pitch also meant they never troubled the scoreline, and both teams went into the first recess period goalless.
Whilst the first half an hour ended up being a rather cagey affair, Exeter saw an opportunity to step up their aggression without the ball in the second session.
As a result, Gribble’s men won possession at a higher rate, which led to them creating multiple for the game’s opener. Despite threatening through quick transitions, set-pieces and intricate passing, the efforts at the Albion goal never properly tested the WBA goalie, and as a result of their squandered chances, the Grecians ended up conceding first.
Following a turnover in possession, the Baggies counter-attacked in swift fashion and worked the ball wide. After cutting inside, one West Brom player fired an unstoppable effort into the top corner to break the deadlock.
As both teams went into the second interval, City were left disappointed that they had gone behind in a contest they predominantly commanded.
The final 30 minutes became rather messy, as more substitutions were made and more opportunities opened up.
Following a scrappy start to the period, the Exeter players settled and got a grip of the match once again, which led to them creating more chances for their attacking players. However, poor decision making and a lack of technique in the final third meant they were left frustrated as they came away with no goals and still trailed their opponents.
West Brom on the other hand hit Gribble’s men on the break twice in a matter of moments. Albion converted the first of their openings to double their advantage, before Jack Arthur rescued his teammates with a good save not long after.
WBA completed the scoring in the final minute of the game when City’s substitute ‘keeper, Andrew Sowden, saw his clearance ricochet off a Baggies attacker before the ball nestled into the back of the Grecians’ net for 3-0.
Despite being on the wrong end of the scoreline, Exeter’s youngsters can come away from the exhibition match with plenty of positives, and they’ll be hoping to take them into their next friendly game with Cheltenham Town this Saturday.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “It was a really productive day for us. Both teams would have made decisions recently regarding their scholarships, so this gave us a chance to look at one or two more, while the under-17s in the group had the chance to become like the second-years and senior members, so they had to try and step up.
“It was a good exercise. From a results point of view, we should have probably won it with the chances we created. But we put together a group on Friday, and you could see some of those relationships on the pitch haven’t developed yet. The players are still getting used to one another, and to myself and the other coaching staff, but the game here provided us with everything that we were looking for.
“The match does provide me with hope going forward because we mustn’t forget that West Brom are a Premier League club, and have a Category One Academy, so to go toe-to-toe with them is pleasing. When the boys came into the changing room at full-time you could see the disappointment on their faces. The Under-16 players that have come into the squad are used to winning matches, and the first-years have been part of a team that have won more games than they have lost this season too. That disappointment tells me that there is a certain mentality in this group. When they go back and reflect on their performances they are going to want to learn and get better because ultimately they were disappointed we didn’t take our chances.
“There were a mixture of things that we were missing. The end product and decision making wasn’t the best, but I have seen these players perform and score goals before so it may have just been an off day for them. The speed of the game was a bit of an eye-opener for a number of the players. I wouldn’t say there was one particular thing they need to work on, but the boys just need to continue to work on their individual games, and keep having those good habits. They just need to continue to believe because they all know how we want to play, and I think we showed our identity in the game.
“Next up for these players is a home game against Cheltenham. on Saturday. They will be a different type of opponent, but it will be another opportunity for these players to learn and make progress. “We believe it is important they have as many of these games as possible.”
Exeter City Under-17s Squad: Jack Arthur, Andrew Sowden, A.Trialist, Edward James, Toby Nevile, Zeph Collins, Daniel Preece, Michael Lilley, Gabriel Billington, Eli Collins, Jamie Nicholson, Alfie Clark, Charlie Hanson, Mitch Beardmore, George Spencer, Harrison King