Exeter City’s Under-18s have gone through a rather up & down season to date as they reach the Christmas break in their 2023/24 campaign.
ECFC’s Head of Coaching & Player Development, Brad Miller, emphasised the need for consistency from the group in the second half of the season, however, he did acknowledge there have also been some moments of brilliance.
The Grecians currently sit in the bottom half of the Youth Alliance South West division after 11 matches, and there will undoubtedly be a push towards the league’s top six if the group want to compete in Merit League One after the New Year.
City began the season with a victory over Swindon Town U18s courtesy of goals from Tom Dean and Theo Cutler, however, that bright start faded as they didn’t record another league win again until three months later.
A heavy loss to Portsmouth U18s in the Devonians’ second fixture, followed by a devastating defeat to rivals Plymouth Argyle U18s could have had the potential to lower the squad’s spirits, however, a penalty shoot-out victory over Oxford United U18s in the Youth Alliance Cup reminded everyone that this group possess some real ability.
In mid-September, Bristol Rovers U18s triumphed 4-0 over Exeter’s youngsters, but the end of September saw the Grecians record two draws to steady the ship.
Despite being knocked out of the Youth Alliance Cup by Sutton United U18s on the 7th October, City recorded another league draw when they played Newport County U18s.
A fine win over Forest Green Rovers U18s came at the beginning of November, with the Devon outfit coming from two goals down to win 4-2 thanks to strikes from Cutler, Callum Graham and a Santino Ohanaka brace.
That result rather typified the high-scoring matches Exeter found themselves in during the winter months, as a 3-3 thriller against Portsmouth, and 6-0 and 5-4 defeats to Swindon and Bristol Rovers respectively, took them to mid-December, before a 3-2 victory over Oxford rounded off 2023.
And while Miller will be moving on to pastures new for 2024, he did believe there was plenty of room for positivity for the club's youth side for the second part of the campaign.
“We were really keen to see what this group were made of, particularly with the small number of second-years we had. For the first years, it was interesting to see how they were going to interact with the group.
“The boys had to go through a lot, including a change in coach so they experienced what can be normal in football - Previously the club has had a bit of continuity with the Academy coaching set up.
“The group overall have been quite inconsistent. They’ve made improvements, but if they want to perform at a high level, they will have to maintain the high levels for longer. Away from the pitch, it is about developing their life skills throughout the scholarship, but on the pitch, it has been really interesting seeing the dynamic develop.
“The ultimate aim of the Academy is to provide first-team opportunities for our young players. We have had another season where players have made their first-team debuts. Jake Richards is with the first-team squad regularly and we are extremely proud of that. Alongside that, we’ve had Max Edgecombe already sign professional terms, so there have been lots of positives.
“The players have performed well for halves of games. We were excellent in the first period against Plymouth at home, and we controlled long spells of our match at Forest Green Rovers. For 60 minutes against Arsenal, we were good, so there have been encouraging performances, but we have to show a bit more consistency. It was a decent and enjoyable first half of the season, but there is still lots to work on going forward.”