Exeter City’s under-18s scored themselves a resounding 5-0 home victory on Saturday in their Youth Alliance league match with Forest Green Rovers under-18s.
Toby Nevile scored a header from Eli Collins’ corner in the 15th minute, before the defender netted another just before half-time from Mitch Beardmore’s cross.
Sonny Cox’s solo effort five minutes after the restart gave the Grecians a three-goal lead, before he doubled his own tally with a cool finish when sent through 10 minutes later.
The rout was completed on 75 minutes when Beardmore headed in a Joe Wragg centre, and with Exeter’s youngsters securing their third consecutive league victory, they now find themselves in seventh place in the South West standings.
ECFC under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble, named a strong and experienced side to take on a tricky Forest Green opponent at the weekend, with several senior scholars coming into the starting line-up.
Their selection helped the team begin in the ascedancy, and they showed their intent and determination during the opening stages thanks to their aggression with and without the ball.
The hosts’ strong start led to them winning the territory battle, while Rovers found themselves rather pinned in during the first 10 minutes.
After a quarter of an hour, the Devon side took a deserved lead following some good work by Beardmore down the right flank. The wideman won his side a corner, and Collins’ wicked delivery located Nevile, who powered a header past the goalkeeper for 1-0.
City's players seized control, with FGR, in particular, unable to get out of their own half and get a foothold in the contest.
However, for all of their control, the Grecians weren’t able to create any clear-cut opportunities, with one Cox shot on the turn, and a long-range attempt from Collins the best it got for Exeter.
Eventually, the away side worked themselves into the game, and they enjoyed a bright 15-minute period that saw them venture forward dangerously on the counter-attack on a number of occasions.
Some carelessness in possession from the home team at the midpoint of the first period however almost saw Forest Green level matters as they whistled a shot just past the post.
That warning sign though seemed to wake Gribble’s men up again towards the end of the first half. With a pick up in pace, good combination play involving Michael Lilley saw the hosts win themselves another corner. Beardmore swung in the delivery, and Nevile once again climbed highest to win the aerial duel and divert a header home to double the advantage.
With the Devonians snatching back the momentum at the end of the first 45 minutes, they continued their control after the break thanks to their high pressing tactics.
Their dominance led to a third goal just five minutes into the second period; Cox wriggled free of several trailing defenders before letting fly from the edge of the penalty box, with his shot precisely finding the bottom corner to round off a superb piece of individual play.
And that supremacy continued as the rest of the game wore on. On the hour mark, City extended their cushion once again thanks to a high regain. Beardmore’s precise through ball fed Cox, who was left with a one-on-one with the opposition goalkeeper. The forward rolled the ball under the attempted save to make it 4-0 with 30 minutes still left to play.
The Grecians continued their relentless assault on the Rovers goal, and despite making changes and introducing Tom Dean, Kelson Pollard and Ed James from the substitutes’ bench, they continued to look for one more score to round off a five-star performance.
After 75 minutes, the fifth goal of the afternoon arrived courtesy of some more slick passing. The ball came to Wragg, and he crossed a ball towards the far post where Beardmore drifted in, before he guided a header into the back of the net to give his team an even bigger cushion.
The final moments of the match saw Exeter’s players effectively run the clock down with some neat ball retention to ensure their opponents had no sniff of a consolation, and their clean sheet remained intact. When the full-time whistle sounded, it meant everyone in a red and white shirt walked off of the Cliff Hill Training Ground pitch extremely pleased with their day’s work and that they can go into Tuesday's FA Youth Cup game with Bristol Rovers U18s high on confidence.
Exeter City under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “It was a dominant day. I know Forest Green had one or two players missing which led them to put out a young team, but you still have to build a performance and beat what is in front of you. We put in a real mature approach and did the right things at the right times. What is most pleasing is that we stayed on task and put in a good performance and good scoreline.
“They showed real good spirit, and worked extremely hard, and they ended up giving us a scare which was probably the best thing for us and what we needed. They gave us an instant problem by playing a different kind of shape to what we expected, but from what they had to select from, you have to give them big credit because there were a lot of Under-16s, and they were against one of the most experienced Under-18s sides we’ve put out this season, so it ended up being a bit of a mismatch at times.
“The application of the players was excellent, and it was great to see minutes from Alfie Pond who was back with us, and Sonny Cox, who both helped add value to the performance. What we asked from the players at half-time, they executed, so that they could finish the game off. We could have easily got sidetracked, but it was a mature performance, after that scare in the first period.
“Getting back to back clean sheets is something you don’t really see in youth team football. Andrew Sowden has played two or three good games for us recently, and achieving another clean sheet, despite having less to do helped give us a great platform to build from.
“The game went perfectly. Players who needed minutes got minutes, and then we were able to take certain players off when the game was up after 60 and 70 minutes. The fact we were able to rest bodies, look after the players on the pitch, and everyone came away fit and healthy, I can’t ask for too much more.
“Tuesday night we play in the FA Youth Cup, which is the biggest and best competition youth team players can play in. Playing under the lights, in a stadium, provides them with big experiences, which are priceless for our players, and has led to further opportunities for them. This cup has a great tradition, and it is one that all the clubs look forward to.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Michael Lilley, Toby Nevile, Alfie Pond, Max Edgecombe, Gabriel Billington, Joe O’Connor, Eli Collins, Joe Wragg, Mitch Beardmore, Sonny Cox
Subs: Ed James, George Spencer, Tom Dean, Kelson Pollard