Exeter City’s Under-18s bounced back from last week’s Devon Derby defeat with an eventful 2-2 draw with Newport County U18s in their penultimate game of the Youth Alliance South West division.
Despite a bright start from the Grecians, the Welsh club took the lead against the run of play midway through the first period.
Eli Collins netted twice from the penalty spot just before half-time, and Exeter’s youngsters held onto their lead until the 75th minute when Newport worked a neat overlap to equalise.
The Devonians ended strongly, but ultimately ran out of time to find a winner, which meant they stayed fourth in the league standings, with just one match remaining.
Chad Gribble’s squad welcomed the Exiles to the Cliff Hill Training Ground on Saturday hoping to erase memories of their previous outing and bounce back with a decent performance.
City began proceedings quite well, and looked at their best when they were aggressive and quick to the ball. The hosts' energy brought themselves some territory and control, and as a result, they started to threaten the County goal.
With the momentum in their favour, the Grecians troubled their opponents mainly through the wide channels, and some dangerous crosses from Alfie Clark pushed the away team onto the backfoot during the first quarter of the game.
However, with the game approaching the 25-minute mark, Exeter were caught out when they conceded the first goal of the day. The Welshmen won themselves a throw-in high up on the left flank, before swiftly restarting play. After a cross to the back post, Newport’s forwards forced the ball past Harry Lee to make the breakthrough.
Despite the setback, the Devon outfit responded well and soon got on the ball again. On 37 minutes, Harrison King marauded down the right before he was bundled over inside the 18-yard box to win Gribble’s men a spot-kick. Collins stepped up and confidently tucked away his attempt to restore parity.
However, the two teams were level for all of just two minutes, as another City attack led to another foul inside the penalty area. Collins once again stepped up, and he cooly converted from 12-yards to make it 2-1 just before the break.
After the restart, the Exiles adopted a more aggressive and direct approach, which led to them stopping any flow the home side tried to muster.
With the visitors in control of the territory, that left the Grecians pinned back into their own half. It meant Exeter’s threat came on the counter-attack, and down the left flank they looked particularly menacing, however, Spencer and Co were unable to properly test the Welsh club’s goalkeeper.
The contest was finely balanced, with the fourth goal crucial to the outcome of the game. With only 15 minutes remaining, it was Newport who got it following a break down the right side. After creating an overlap, the direct ball that came into the middle led to Exiles having a man over on the far side. Some intelligent play made use of the player advantage, which meant Lee was picking the ball up from the back of his net once again.
The impetus was with the away side for the following five-minute period, however, in the final stages of the game, the Devonians snatched it back with a thrust of their own. But despite some encouraging spells of possession, Gribble’s youngsters were unable to create that one moment of magic before the full-time whistle sounded.
After Saturday’s points were shared, City’s youngsters remain in fourth position in the league standings. With the top of the division so tight, the Grecians face a crucial game in the final round of fixtures this coming weekend, where they know a victory over Swindon Town U18s will guarantee the club a top-half finish, where they will qualify for Merit League One in the second half of the campaign.
Exeter City Under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble: “There were elements of the performance here that I was pleased with. This is a completely new group now, and it was the Forest Green match a few weeks ago when we started to bring the players together. Here it was an Under-17s group, so we are much younger than before.
“Against Plymouth last week at times we played like children and had a lack of maturity in our play, but we quickly put that to bed, and I thought we were aggressive and competitive, which allowed us to have some good moments in the game. Being competitive in this game was the first forward step with this squad because we were up against a big and physical Newport side.
“The two goals we conceded were really poor, and those errors we made in the lead up to them can’t be made at this age group. Despite the positives in our performance, the negatives included a lack of awareness of the situation at times and aspects of game management. We need to be able to spot the danger and moments in the game a bit better because I have no doubt these players have the ability.
“We made the decision to go with the younger group four games early, and to send the second-years out on loan to gain exposure to men’s football. We will go into the Merit League programme with this Under-17s group, and these games here will prepare them well for that. This game was perfect for the players as it gave us a real good challenge, and another chance to develop them. I’m pleased with the step they have made. We managed to get two goals, but in truth we didn’t look like scoring from open play, so that is the next step for us to make.
“This Saturday we come up against what will most likely be a physical and aggressive Swindon side that will adopt a mature approach. That will give us another good challenge and it is one I am looking forward to. The younger players are excited by becoming the new Under-18s group and looking forward to the prospect of the Merit League. We want to provide as many experiences to this set of players as possible, and the Swindon match will provide that. It’ll be tough, but the players will have a bit of confidence and belief off the back of this result against Newport and the step they have made in the right direction.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Harrison King, Sam Joce, Ed James, Max Edgecombe, Eli Collins, Pedro Borges, Alfie Cunningham, Alfie Clark, Mitch Beardmore, George Spencer
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Tom Dean, Scott Simmonds