Exeter City’s Under-18s returned to duties in the Youth Alliance South West division with a comfortable 3-0 victory away at Bristol Rovers under-18s on Saturday.
Despite a relatively slow start to proceedings, the Grecians began to find their groove further into the first half, and they took the lead in the 43rd minute through George Spencer’s penalty.
The Devon outfit gathered further momentum after the break, and their fitness proved to be decisive, as Spencer netted his second as the closing stages approached.
Substitute Ed James added a third goal with 10 minutes remaining to seal the three points that took Exeter’s youngsters back up to third in the league standings.
ECFC’s under-18s Lead Coach, Kevin Nicholson, was hoping his young squad would take the lessons learnt from Tuesday night’s Devon Bowl defeat to Plymouth Parkway and apply them in their difficult trip up the M5.
Back into the team came Under-16 players, Jacca Cavendish, Theo Cutler, and Jake Richards, while Alfie Clark continued his comeback from injury with a start on the left-hand side.
However, in spite of the optimism surrounding City’s chances, Saturday’s contest began somewhat quietly, with the recovery of balls going out of play one factor in not allowing a free-flowing game.
Despite the players attempting to do the right things on the ball, the lack of tempo during the opening sequences frustrated the visitors’ coaching staff, with a hangover from Tuesday’s cup tie, or the early start, the potential reasons behind the laboured approach.
Because of the sluggish opening quarter, on 25 minutes the Grecians were thankful Andrew Sowden was at his best when he denied the Pirates following a swift breakaway when the odds were stacked against the goalkeeper.
That moment seemed to spur the Devonians into life, who built up more of a rhythm as the opening 45 progressed.
With half-time on the horizon, Nicholson’s men recaptured the spark that they had shown in their recent outings, and twice, with ventures into the 18-yard box, the referee failed to award an Exeter spot-kick despite the hefty challenges by the home defence.
Another City surge forward moments later resulted in another penalty shout which was again turned down, however, that was just further evidence which proved the momentum was truly shifting in the away team’s favour.
With two minutes left of the first period, arguably the softest of the shouts for a foul inside the area was finally given by the officials. Spencer stepped up, and the forward converted from 12-yards to hand his team the lead at the interval.
The Grecians continued on the front foot after the restart, and produced more moments of free-flowing football than they did in the first period.
The build-up play showed more positivity and dynamism, and while they weren’t completely at their best, they were good enough to dominate their opponents and continued to create numerous goalscoring opportunities.
The Devon club should have doubled their lead through Theo Cutler or Pedro Borges, however, both were guilty of impeding one another, and therefore the danger was eventually cleared by the retreating defenders.
Nicholson’s men though were never put off by their wasteful shooting, and always appeared to be the fitter and stronger side. Exeter’s conditioning meant they finished the contest in the ascendency, and, after 75 minutes, they were able to find the back of the net again.
Following a sustained amount of pressure, a dangerous ball across the Rovers goal located the in-form Spencer, and the striker confidently tucked away his second of the day to make it 2-0.
City continued to press their opponents as they looked to secure the three points. Their third goal should have come through Scott Simmons via a corner, however, the centre-back squandered the gilt-edged chance when right in front of goal.
That meant the visitors had to wait until the 80th minute to seal the victory. Despite a corner coming to very little, the Grecians kept things alive with another attacking wave. A menacing cross into the danger zone found its way to James, and the replacement made no mistake in finishing from close-range to increase the advantage and wrap up the win.
Exeter City’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Kevin Nicholson: “For the most part, it was a comfortable win, but, it might have been the worst performance this season. In the first half, we had a slow tempo, and although the pitch was lovely, it was wide open and it took almost 20 seconds to get the ball back onto the pitch, which was extremely frustrating. In the second period, we were a lot better, although not 100% at it, and we created chances. The big plus is we looked fit and strong, and we had the legs on Bristol Rovers. We looked more and more likely to score, and that control led to the two late goals.
"The game overall was a positive one. We found a way to win which is what the boys will have to do if they become professionals. We created plenty of chances, and the goals we scored were good. There was evidence once again that we tried to put into practice what we have trained, and the clean sheet, our first of the season, is a real positive, and massive for us as we want to pride ourselves on those as much as we do with scoring goals. But for us to go and have a good season, our levels will need to be higher than what we showed here.
“Individually there were some good moments, but it didn't come together as a team. I wouldn’t say anyone individually played badly, and I can’t fault the players’ attitude. The back three and Andy played really well, and smothered their most threatening centre-forward. The two strikers worked well together, and the midfield duo were neat. Alfie Clark continues to come back from injury and Harrison King has now put four very good performances in. Jake Richards, for an Under-16, was extremely positive.”
“I will be challenging the players to be better as a collective next week. But it is all part of the boys’ learning. Next Saturday, against Forest Green Rovers U18s, I will be looking for us to establish control and move the opposition around. We will have to make good decisions, and win the ball back high, because when you manage to do that, you are only one or two passes away from a shot on goal. I will be setting up challenges in training this week to make sure we are prepared for Saturday.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Scott Simmons, Sam Joce, Jacca Cavendish, Harrison King, Alfie Clark, Gabriel Billington, Tom Dean, Jake Richards, Theo Cutler, George Spencer
Subs: Ed James, Aamir Daniels, Pedro Borges
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