A young Exeter City Under-18s side suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat to local rivals Plymouth Argyle under-18s in the Youth Alliance South West division last Friday.
After a goalless first half, the Pilgrims made the most of the blustery conditions to pin City back and control proceedings in what was a rather one-sided second period.
Jeffery Forkuo opened the scoring in the 57th minute, before Freddie Issaka curled in eight minutes later to double the home side’s lead.
Late goals from Oscar Halls and Angel Waruih sealed the victory for Argyle, who climb to the top of the standings, with the Grecians slipping to fourth after the results at the weekend.
Exeter’s Youth Coach, Chad Gribble, took his young squad to Harpers Park on Friday in a top-of-the-table clash with one of their fiercest rivals.
In difficult playing conditions, the visitors ended up playing with the wind in the first half, and looked to make the most of that advantage during the opening stages.
City enjoyed some bright passages of play that gained them some territory early on, however, they were unable to muster up any real chances despite finding themselves in behind the defence on several occasions.
Plymouth on the other hand looked a threat on the counter, and conjured up some neat moves when they got around the initial Grecian press.
With the Pilgrims looking particularly dangerous in the wide areas, it meant that Exeter’s youngsters never gained the control they craved. The hosts looked to take advantage of several set-pieces, while in response, Gribble’s men created some half-chances through Alfie Clark trying to link up with Alfie Cunningham.
When the referee blew for the end of the first 45 minutes, the away side were left to rue not taking full advantage of the wind, and in fact, were on the receiving end of a commanding second half performance from Argyle.
With the game mostly played in the City half, Plymouth forced the opposition back on several occasions, not letting them out, and they took advantage of their territory just 12 minutes after the restart with the opening goal of the game.
Pilgrims midfielder, Will Jenkins-Davies, delivered a free-kick into a dangerous area, and Forkuo beat Harry Lee to the ball to head the ball over the stranded goalkeeper to make the breakthrough.
The home team continued to press forward in search of another goal, and on 65 minutes they doubled their lead through Issaka. A long pass forward wasn’t dealt with by the Grecian defence, and a poor clearance fell to the winger, who created space for a shot and curled the ball in for 2-0.
Exeter, in reply, managed to break forward when they were able to get out of their own half, with Mitch Beardmore looking the most likely to trouble the Argyle backline, but no real shots troubled Lewis Moyle in between the sticks for Plymouth.
The score remained the same until the 87th minute, when the Pilgrims added to their cushion. Oscar Halls got ahead of his marker at the near post to deflect the ball in from close range and make it a three-goal game.
The win was wrapped up with a fourth goal in injury time, when Waruih made the most of some sloppy play by shooting from distance. With the ball bouncing just before Lee, the strike fizzed past the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner to hand the hosts all three points, and leave Gribble’s side plenty to reflect on ahead of next weekend’s clash with Newport County U18s.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “My congratulations go to Plymouth. They were better in all areas, while we had nothing in our game to hold on to. We were well beaten in every department, and they were better physically and tactically. I’m disappointed with the character we showed when the second goal went in. We lost our spirit and our heart, and it can be difficult when that happens. We were beaten by the better side, and all of our performance levels need to be better, and the players need to be accountable for that. With the team that we put out, although they were primarily younger, they are more capable than what they showed.
“With the experience side they selected, that meant they had more rhythm and clarity in what was required from them. Some of our players underperformed, but they are aware of that. Plymouth decided to put out that type of side, but I would like to think that with what we put out, we could match them. What is most disappointing is that we weren't able to go toe-to-toe with them. This result can be a bit of a slap in the face, and can quite often give you a sense of reality and perspective. Our players are clear where their game is at, and where they need to improve, and if that result doesn’t drive the players to be better, then nothing will.
“I think the result came down to a lot of what happened out on the pitch. But you could certainly see the pressure that was built up amongst the Plymouth squad because they were fired up, and maybe we were too relaxed. The whole game was played on their terms, and they played the game and occasion well. You have to earn the right to play, and they earned their victory with their attitude and approach.
“The next game is a great opportunity to respond, but what I’m a bigger believer in is the next training session. We will see what kind of mood and spirit our players are in, and see what intentions they have. We decided to increase the number of young players we have sent out on loan which can make things a bit tougher for us on a Saturday. When you have six or seven individuals out on loan, players training with the first team regularly, and 15 and 16-year-olds in amongst the team, you can see there is a bigger picture going on.
"We want to make sure we put in a competitive performance against Newport next week, but we have got to make our moments count. We want to finish as high as we can in the league so we can play in the top Merit League, and we are on track to do that. But we felt now was the time to get the second-year scholars out into senior men's football, and if that means we take a hit on a Saturday, we can take that.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Harrison King, Toby Nevile, Ed James, Max Edgecombe, Joe O’Connor, Pedro Borges, Alfie Cunningham, Alfie Clark, Mitch Beardmore, George Spencer
Subs: Sam Joce, Tom Dean