Exeter City’s Under-18s moved a step closer to the levels they want to be for the start of their competitive season thanks to another two exhibition games against men’s football clubs last week.
The Grecian youngsters first tested themselves against Tavistock AFC on Wednesday evening, and despite losing 3-1, the game itself proved to be another useful exercise for all of those involved.
Following on from their midweek fixture, City’s youth side then went up against Exmouth at the weekend, where they suffered a 5-2 defeat, however, Exeter’s Head of Coaching and Player Development, Kevin Nicholson, came away from both matches with real positivity.
“Both games followed a similar pattern,” said Nicholson. “In the two games we had way more of the ball, and we were neat and tidy in possession, but we had difficulty mixing it physically against men. You don’t get that kind of test in Academy football, and both men's teams had experienced players who know the little nuances within the game that can disrupt you. Overall though, it was a really good exercise, and a great experience for the lads.”
The 41-year-old added, “We had a number of Under-16s playing, and they did very well too. But ultimately it is still pre-season, and there was plenty we were happy with, but plenty to work on as well.”
The Grecians have two more friendly matches lined up this week as the step up in intensity continues. Nicholson takes his men to South Gloucestershire and Stroud College to begin with, before a clash with Bristol City’s U18s rounds off the week. Ahead of both games, Nicholson said that he hopes to see where his team truly are in their preparations.
“We play SGS College this week which is a reorganised game from a previous week when we didn’t have enough available players. That will be an interesting game and it’ll be a more realistic challenge for the players. We will start to see a more accurate picture of where the players are in terms of fitness and the style of play we want to adopt.
“We then play Bristol City on Saturday which will be a real test. Not just because they are a higher category academy, but because they also manage to produce players for their first team squad. Saturday's match will stretch us, and on paper, they should have a greater depth of players available to them, but we can push ourselves against them. You can’t lose out in that type of game, and we will learn a lot as players and coaches. It will be like a cup game, and I want the boys to go out and express themselves, and to want to beat them.”
“I think what we’ve discovered so far is that this is a really competitive group, who want to win every game they play. This pre-season, the squad are working under a new group of staff so they are pushed a bit differently, and it is a bit of a change for them in comparison to the last few seasons, but it is something for them to learn and adapt to. We will expect to see mistakes because ultimately they are still young players, and there will be some things we will go away and be frustrated with, but it is still pre-season and they are still growing.
“I’ve heard the manager say it before, but it is a process for these young players, and it is about giving consistent messages to them. While we have lost recent matches, it will look like a different picture when the Academy games come around. But ultimately, it is about giving the boys the best chance of earning that pro contract at the end of their scholarship.”
City’s Under-18s begin their Youth Alliance South West campaign on August 6th, where they will visit AFC Bournemouth U18s in their season opener. Following the announcement of the league fixtures, Nicholson acknowledged that their contest against the Cherries is a mouth-watering fixture to kick off the Youth Alliance South West division.
“We travel to AFC Bournemouth in our first game. That will be another test because we will be playing another club in a higher league. They have often been at the top end of the South West division, and with them reaching the Premier League, they will have attracted even better players as well. It is certainly a good first game for us to have, and it will be all about how can we compete with them towards the top of the league standings.”