Exeter City’s Under-18s endured a productive trip to the capital as they put in a proud and courageous performance in a friendly match against Arsenal’s youth team at the weekend.
ECFC’s Head of Coaching and Player Development, Brad Miller, admitted it was a wonderful opportunity for the young Grecians, and their experiences at the training ground at London Colney has given the City coaches and players lots of encouragement going forward.
“It was a great fixture for our lads. We managed to stamp our way of playing onto things against a club with a fantastic academy. It was definitely a worthwhile experience, and one we can reflect on positively.”
With no competitive fixture on the calendar, the Devonians made a long trip eastwards to the Arsenal first team training centre to face off against a talented team, and work on some systems and processes to aid the continuation of improving individuals, as well as the collective group.
With the focus on development, trialling new methods, and maintaining the players’ match sharpness, the game was split into three 30-minute segments, with the visitors displaying a positive mentality as they started proceedings brightly and on the front foot.
The Grecians arguably deserved to open the scoring following some nice build-up play. Alfie Cunningham’s cross found the run of George Birch, and the forward tucked the ball home from close range for 1-0.
The Gunners grabbed an equaliser in that opening period, but City were more than holding their own, and were extremely competitive throughout.
In the second part, the defences were perhaps on top as the scoreline remained unchanged, meaning the teams stayed level after an hour.
In the final half an hour, unfortunately, in terms of the scoreline, the Premier League outfit were able to call upon a number of experienced players from their bench. In contrast, the Devon club introduced some of their younger individuals, providing them with the invaluable experience this opportunity provided. That resulted in the hosts netting a few more goals and therefore securing the victory, however, when the full-time whistle sounded, Miller came away a satisfied man.
“The lads were a credit to the club. Louie Cayless at 14 years old was outstanding, next to Sam Joce, who put in another solid performance. Jake Richards was strong in midfield, along with Alfie Cunningham and Tom Dean.”
“They were creative and adaptable, and those are really important traits to have for our players’ development. It was a bit of a high-stress game for them, and we were defending against some high-calibre players. I think the penny dropped for our group as well were able to sustain that, but in the end, they proved to be ruthless which resulted in a defeat on the scoreline. But, in truth, there were lots of positives, and a lot of learning opportunities from this.
“I’m very pleased we had the opportunity to do this. It was a long trip, but we were well looked after. This trip demonstrated to the lads the professional aspect with travelling, and it was a new experience for a lot of them. The pitch was outstanding despite the temperature, but seeing all the minute details was good for the boys.
“Arsenal had us pinned back for long periods, and utilised the width. They were rotating a lot into the spaces, but our boys handled that, and defended their shape and passed people on well. But we have got to be more ruthless. We had four, five or six chances to be, but we weren’t and yet Arsenal were, so there was a bit of a difference in both boxes.
“We did well for 60 or 70 minutes, but, we will want to continue improving specific requirements for the players, and become cleaner in some of the things that we do.”