Exeter City’s under-18s recorded their first win of this season's Merit League One on Friday afternoon courtesy of a 1-0 victory away at AFC Wimbledon.
Despite a difficult pitch to contend with, and a slow start to proceedings, the Grecians grew into the contest and got into half-time with the score still goalless.
The only goal of the game arrived 20 minutes from time when a good move allowed Pedro Borges to surge forward, before he cut in and saw his shot deflect past the Dons goalkeeper.
Victory in London has meant Exeter’s youngsters have moved onto four points, which has seen them climb off the bottom of the standings to eighth place, with four matches left to play.
Once again, travelling to the south east on the morning of game, added to the fact the squad played in a gruelling win over Tavistock AFC just two beforehand, City’s youth side seemed up against it when they faced a Wimbledon team who had already beaten them when they played one another in the Youth Alliance Cup earlier on this season.
The Devon outfit started the contest rather slowly, with the starting XI struggling to reach the levels of performance that they managed to hit less than 48 hours before in the semi-final of the Devon St Luke's Bowl.
That meant the first 20 minutes belonged to the home side, but, under the guidance of Kevin Nicholson, the Grecians worked their way into the contest, and managed to match their opponents in the lead up to the break.
Nicholson’s message at half-time was clear, however, as he asked the players to be braver in possession, and be quicker on and off the ball with their movement.
Despite the Dons having a few bright moments straight after the restart, a good 20-minute period saw Exeter enjoy better spells with the ball, and create more chances as a result. Their positive intentions going forward made them look far more dangerous, despite the hard pitch making it difficult to retain possession with the ball on the deck.
However, on 70 minutes, a good bit of build-up play allowed Borges to move forward with the ball. With Aamir Daniels running outside of him with a good overlap, the midfielder opted to use his teammate as the dummy runner, and instead cut inside onto his left foot. Borges’ effort hit the defender aiming to repel the effort, who instead wrong-footed the home goalie with his intervention, and sent the ball into the back of his own net for the breakthrough.
Despite perhaps the weariness of two games within the space of a few days creeping into the legs of the City backline, solid defending from the likes of Ed James, on his return from injury, and 15-year-old Jacca Cavendish, ensured that the physical London outfit were unable to stop the Exeter defence from preserving their clean sheet by finding a leveller in the latter stages.
It meant that the Grecians travelled back to Devon with their first three-point haul, meaning they will go into next weekend’s home clash with Stevenage full of confidence, hoping that their climb up the Merit League One table can continue.
Exeter City’s Head of Coaching and Player Development, Kevin Nicholson: “We started slowly, and didn’t hit the levels that we showed flashes of in the second half on Wednesday night against Tavistock. We had to make it clear to the team that in real-life football, sometimes you play a lot of games in a short space of time, and they have to be ready to do that if they want to move forward. The second half overall was much better, during a time when you would have thought we would start to fatigue.
“Special mention has to go to Jacca Cavendish, who played a full second half, in the middle of a back three, against players who were two and three years older than him. He showed good composure and was calm in testing situations. Scott Simmons played his best game to date as well. For someone who is trying to integrate himself within the group, he is giving it a good go in terms of giving himself a head start ahead of next season.
“Overall we have finished off what was a pleasing week. We showed flashes of what was required. To get into Matt Taylor’s first team, players have got to play at high standards for 90 minutes. They also have got to get in position early, got to be consistent, and got to be a team player. It was the first time the players experienced playing twice within 48 hours, which is good for them.
“I think the players are starting to believe a little bit. At this point of the season, it is a bit of a disruptive time for us because the second years tend to go out on loan, so the first years get more game time, and the Under-16s start coming in, so it is about gelling a new team together. The team are starting to get the results which helps build confidence. Wednesday night was more about getting the result, which they managed to do, while this match was about the performance.
“When we played Wimbledon earlier on in the season, they were coming into that game off of the back of playing in the Youth Cup the day before. They beat us on that occasion, so it was nice for us to go there and defeat them having played two days previous.
“We play Stevenage next, who come from the same demographic - and possess a different style with a bit of a swagger and a bit of nous just like the other south east teams. We will have to outthink them because players from those kinds of teams are often more physical and bigger than ourselves. But so far we have performed quite well against them, and we’ll look to do that once again on Saturday.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Aamir Daniels, Scott Simmons, Gabriel Billington, Sam Joce, Mitch Beardmore, Harrison King, Pedro Borges, Tom Dean, Joe Wragg, George Spencer
Subs: Jacca Cavendish, Ed James, Joe O’Connor