Exeter City’s under-18s suffered a 4-2 defeat to Swansea City under-18s on Saturday in their second fixture of the inaugural under-18 Professional Development League Cup competition.
Ian Morgan’s low finish and Geoff Bony’s quick-fire brace handed the Welsh outfit a comfortable lead at the break.
Grecians wing-back, Mitch Beardmore, pulled one back in the 69th minute, however, Rohan Davies reestablished the home team’s three-goal cushion moments later.
George Spencer scored an Exeter second with 18 minutes remaining, however, the young Devonians were unable to net another, meaning everything is still all to play for with only one group game remaining.
The visitors were looking to bounce back from last weekend’s heavy defeat to Oxford United U18s with a positive display in Swansea against a talented Category Two Academy.
After the Grecians had recorded a fine victory over Plymouth Argyle U18s in their opening tie of the competition, circumstances were slightly different to when the two clubs faced one another in pre-season, with a spot at the top of Group E up for grabs.
However, Exeter’s youngsters were challenged before they even set off up the M5 with ECFC’s U18s Lead Coach, Kevin Nicholson, and Individual Player Development Coach, Nicky Ajose, both missing as they were away at Oakwell helping out with the first-team.
Added to that, Max Edgecombe and Sam Joce were absent, while other members of the youth team were either linking up with their loan clubs, or the senior side, meaning Academy staff members, Arran Pugh and Brad Miller travelled to South Wales with a younger squad than they might’ve liked.
Following some pre-match preparation by Pugh and Miller, the away team set up in a particular way defensively, hoping to nullify the threat provided by the Swans' attacking trio. While their intentions were good, a slight tactical switch from the Welsh club meant their number 10s looked dangerous in the first period.
Some early chances for the hosts saw Morgan threaten with some menacing crosses and long-range efforts, while Andrew Sowden twice denied Davies with some brave goalkeeping.
In contrast, the Devonians struggled on the ball, and failed to look like a typical Grecians side. Some nervy possession play meant they lacked any real quality going forward, with their build-ups often breaking down fairly quickly.
Therefore it was no surprise that it was Swansea who broke the deadlock just before the half-hour mark. After Exeter gave the ball away, Morgan received a precise through ball, before the forward cut in and finished low past Sowden to open the scoring.
While the away team tried to muster a response and put together some more encouraging patterns as the half went on, the Swans doubled their advantage in the 37th minute; Wilson located Bony with a wonderful ball into the danger area, before the latter scored from close range to make it 2-0.
Moments before the half-time whistle, Swansea grabbed a third when Bony netted once more. A strong run in the middle of the park meant play shifted quickly into the Grecians’ box. A neat through ball found the feet of Bony, who then finished high into the back of the net to give his team an unassailable lead.
After the restart, Exeter provided a reaction, and their quest to find a way back into the contest started brightly; Alfie Cunningham stung the hands of Kit Margetson with a long-range strike.
At the midpoint of the second half, however, the Devon club did register their first goal of the afternoon, and Cunningham was once again at the heart of it. The midfielder advanced forward, before his ball was flicked on by Jake Richards. Closing in at the far post was Beardmore, and he managed to divert the ball home to restore some hope to his side’s ranks.
But that was quickly extinguished less than a minute later courtesy of the hosts’ fourth goal. A nicely worked move saw a pass come square to Davies, and he tapped in from six yards leaving Sowden little chance.
The conceded effort didn’t rock the away team though, and they steadied themselves in their response; Both Alfie Clark and George Spencer worked extremely hard to maintain the high energy levels of the team high up the pitch.
Tom Dean twice was unlucky, when firstly a direct free-kick curled inches wide of the post, while a powerful shot from the cultured playmaker ricocheted off the post and away to safety not long after.
In the 72nd minute, Spencer did manage to double his side’s goal tally when his efforts paid off. An aggressive press from the front meant he stole possession high up. The striker showed immense composure to tuck the ball into the bottom corner despite the presence of the ‘keeper to make it 4-2, to potentially set up an exciting finish to the game.
However, despite a renewed confidence growing through the Exeter players, as well as Theo Cutler adding another dimension in attack from the bench, the Welsh team’s professionalism and ability allowed them to see the game out without any other real chances on their goal opening up.
Victory for Swansea meant they climbed to the summit of the group standings, and with Bristol City U18s also picking up a win in Plymouth, it means that the top three sides are separated by just a solitary point with one fixture remaining. The Grecians are scheduled to host Bristol City U18s at the Cliff Hill Training Ground on 5th November.
Exeter City’s Academy Operations & Performance Manager, Arran Pugh: “To be going to Swansea, a Category Two Academy, was always going to be a good game against a tough opponent. It was made more difficult with the personnel missing, so we ended up going with probably a younger team than we would’ve liked for this particular game, so it was more of a challenge, but what a great opportunity and experience it provided for those involved.
“Due to the Under-18s coaches not there, with Kevin Nicholson and Nicky Ajose with the first team, we had a different look about us. Brad Miller stepped up and led the group, while Chris McPhee and myself have helped too.
“It was noticeable that Swansea set up differently to how we expected. We tried to adjust things but that became hard to do in the first half, and their two number 10s were getting on the ball and causing us problems. What was a bit disappointing was that we didn’t look like ourselves in that first period. But our half-time message to the players was to play the City way, show our quality, and be braver in possession.
“Full credit has to go to the boys for their second half display. They carried out the gameplan, which worked well, and they had care in their passing and were better overall in possession. We brought it back to 3-1, but we conceded once more within 30 seconds, when we left ourselves too open. We had a lot of the ball after, and we created chances. When we got it back to 4-2, we thought we had a good chance, but ultimately couldn’t score again. With a bit more luck, we might have got something.
“I think our second half showed why we have entered this competition. We face different challenges, and want to play these kinds of teams regularly, because it will always be about aiding these players’ developments. We play Bristol City in the competition next, and if we beat them, then we still have every chance of topping the group, or advancing as one of the best runner-ups.
“We play Plymouth Argyle U18s in the league on Saturday, and the recent games against them have been extremely close and competitive. It is a game we look forward to, and it will be about putting our players in the best position to develop.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Gabriel Billington, Scott Simmons, Jacca Cavendish, Aamir Daniels, Mitch Beardmore, Alfie Cunningham, Tom Dean, Jake Richards, George Spencer, Alfie Clark
Subs: Theo Cutler
The current standings