Exeter City’s Under-18s suffered a 3-0 defeat to Forest Green Rovers U18s in Merit League Two at the Cliff Hill Training Ground on Tuesday.
In a bit of a sloppy opening period, the Devonians fell behind near the 15-minute mark when a decent long-range effort proved too good for Grecians goalkeeper Harry Lee.
Rovers doubled their advantage soon after when a dangerous cross was glanced home to really hand FGR the initiative.
Forest Green secured the victory with a third goal on the hour, and with City finishing with just nine players on the pitch, Tom Donati and his young squad will be hoping to quickly bounce back from this.
Exeter’s youngsters recalled Scott Simmons and Aamir Daniels back into the starting XI for their clash against the club that finished bottom of the Youth Alliance South West divisional standings during the first part of the campaign.
However, despite the optimism and confidence that was spread across the hosts’ squad following their upturn in recent results, a slow start in the opening few minutes typified the tough afternoon they faced.
Within the opening exchanges, the lack of competitiveness in the Devonians’ game gave confidence to the away side, who edged the 50/50 battles and caused a real nuisance to the Grecian backline.
City’s players found it difficult to stick to their pre-match tactics, and with Donati’s men rattled from the opposition's strategy, there looked to be just one team that would make the breakthrough.
Rovers moved the ball down their left-hand side, with the Exeter defence unable to tidy up the danger. One pass into the centre opened up a shooting chance, and the ball was nicely curled past the reach of Lee to break the deadlock.
A little over five minutes later, FGR struck again as they made the most of some below-par defending. Play came over to the right, before the resulting cross located one midfield runner, who got across his man to guide a headed effort into the back of the net for 2-0.
A rather sluggish tempo from the home team meant they were unable to conjure a response, and they went into half-time still two goals down.
In the second period, the Grecians' relatively flat performance level continued, as the Forest Green goalkeeper rarely found himself in any real danger.
The visitors increased their cushion with around half an hour remaining. A long direct ball over the top caused problems for City once again, as they failed to clear their lines. One Rovers player picked up possession in a threatening position, and he fired a shot across the goal and inside the far post for FGR’s third of the day.
Again, Donati tried lifting his players for a reaction, and he introduced Kye Cooper and Rafa Beadman from the bench, however, the offensive impetus that was clearly required to breakdown the stubborn Forest Green shape was missing.
And Exeter’s misery was compounded a little later when they completed the remaining minutes of the game two players down courtesy of a nasty incident involving both of their centre-backs.
After a lengthy stoppage in the game courtesy of a member of the away team going down with a wrist injury, that time allowed the Devonians to regroup. However, following the restart, Simmons and Beadman collided, which left both needing to come off the pitch.
That rather left the hosts helpless in trying to nick at a goal in the closing stages, and despite the efforts of attacking trio, Mitch Beardmore, Joe Wragg and Theo Cutler, the Grecians were unable to register themselves on the scoresheet.
When the referee blew for full-time, that meant Rovers picked up their first win in five, while City will be hoping to pick up their performance levels after Easter for their match against Leyton Orient U18s.
Exeter City’s Under-18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati: “It was a tough one. It was a very slow, lacklustre and lethargic performance, and we came in with a game plan but didn’t really stick to it. When they scored their first two goals, we were in control, but lost control of what we were trying to do. Scott Simmons and Rafa Beadman collided late on and will be off for some time with concussion, while Liam Oakes had to come off with a sprained ankle, so the injuries were a disappointing end to a disappointing day.
“We have to be realistic, and the Under-16s who have been with us have been brilliant. On Monday, we had a good training session, but on reflection, we didn’t have quite enough legs here, but that is part of the players’ learning and development. We are different to other groups as we have so many boys out on loan, so we are rarely all together. That makes it difficult to get cohesion, but we have done it at times, and we will try to do it more going forward.
“Football can be relentless, and we’ll be back into training Thursday to prepare for next week. It was a bit of a learning curve for them, but every game is. We prepared as normal for the game, and knew what was coming, but during the game, we weren’t quick enough to work out what was required. That is the biggest part of their progression I want to see - not leaning too heavily on the tactical knowledge of the coaches, but working out was is needed in-game on the pitch.
“The boys are off over the Easter weekend, but back in from Tuesday. We play a friendly on Wednesday and then we face Leyton Orient U18s on the following Saturday. It is a busy schedule for us coming up, so there is a lot to manage and juggle, and I’ve given the group plenty to think about. Psychologically it can be tiring too, so we have got to get a balance both physically and psychologically, otherwise, you end up getting a flat day as we did here. With four days off, hopefully the players will get some rest before some further testing times going forward.
“Every game is important, and Wednesday’s friendly will be as important as Leyton Orient. I have gotten to know Leyton Orient well over my time, and their youth system has always been relatively strong. They’re from a robust part of the country where the talent pool is rather relentless. I know they’ll be athletic and strong, and a different test to what we normally face in comparison to the South West clubs, so it will be really interesting to see how we match up against them.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Scott Simmons, Sam Joce, Liam Oakes, Tom Dean, Gabriel Billington, Jake Richards, Aamir Daniels, Mitch Beardmore, Joe Wragg, Theo Cutler
Subs: Rafa Beadman, Kye Cooper