📝 Under-18 Report: City 4 Bristol Rovers 5

Exeter City’s Under-18s suffered the heartbreak of conceding a late winner as Bristol Rovers U18s ran out 5-4 victors in the Youth Alliance South West division last Saturday.

In a largely balanced first half, four goals were shared with Santino Ohanaka netting twice for the Grecians.

Tom Dean’s tidy finish made it 3-2 City shortly after half-time, before Ohanaka completed his hattrick with a superb finish.

But the Pirates responded strongly, and after pulling a goal back against the run of play, a big deflection levelled the scores, before the dramatic winner came courtesy of a set-piece in the closing stages.

Exeter’s youth team welcomed Rovers to the Cliff Hill Training Ground with the hope they could put right the 4-0 defeat they suffered at the hand of their Westcountry rivals back in September.

Dylan Shanahan returned in between the sticks for the hosts, while senior figures, Max Edgecombe and Alfie Cunningham were handed starts.

In some challenging conditions in Devon, the Grecians defended against the wind in the first period, with the backline seemingly able to deal with the combination of the strong gusts and the opposition threats relatively well.

But arguably the Bristolians looked the better during the opening exchanges, as City began a little sloppy in possession. Because of their better execution on the ball, the Gas managed to open the scoring, which left the Exeter coaches rather disappointed.

But, despite the setback, the home team grew back into the game, and they deservedly equalised when Ohanaka displayed a real clinical edge by finishing well when the opportunity arose.

Neither team really enjoyed prolonged periods of sustained pressure, and the momentum was hard to snatch as no group of players appeared at their fluent best.

The visitors were ahead on the possession stats, and they retook the lead in rather a fortuitous manner when a cross floated above Shanahan and flew directly into the net.

But just before the break, the Devon club hurled themselves back into it when Ohanaka produced some magic to beat the defender, before he shot high into the net for a timely score.

With the scores at two goals apiece entering the second 45, the Grecians began to get on the front foot, as they showed a more competitive nature and were working hard to gain the edge on their opponents.

With a tactical tweak, City’s youngsters began moving the ball into more dangerous areas of the field, and utilising the spaces that opened up.

In the early moments of the half, with a break into the penalty area, Dean moved his way into a shooting position, before burying an effort into the bottom corner the hand his side the lead for the first time.

Not only were the Exeter players better on the ball, but out of possession as well, and they doubled their advantage after forcing the Pirates ‘keeper into a mistake. The goalie inadvertently picked out Ohanaka with a pass, and the winger showed real composure as he stroked the ball in from distance to make it 4-2.

With the Devonians seemingly in control, Rovers found their way back into the contest when they found a way past substitute shot-stopper, and ECFC Under-14, Sam Down.

Down was unlucky once again shortly after when the Bristol club grabbed their fourth of the afternoon. The away side worked the ball into another threatening position, before the resulting strike took a wicked ricochet, to send the ball into the top corner making it an eight-goal game.

As the clock ticked towards its climax, things became rather frantic as if the two sets of players were playing a table-tennis match.

But in one of the final pieces of action, the final goal of the day arrived when a spell of pressure forced the Grecians to put the ball behind for a corner. The away side worked the ball into the box before converting their chance in front of goal to send the Gas supporters wild. City instead were left devastated that they were unable to take any points away from this high-scoring affair.

Exeter City’s Head of Coaching & Player Development, Brad Miller: “It was another high-scoring game for this group. I thought while Bristol Rovers played well, they didn’t cut through us, and we are disappointed with the way we have conceded some of the goals.

“The first half was a bit of a bitty game, where neither side had any real momentum. The first goal we have conceded is a disappointing one, but when the boys brought it back to 2-2, it was probably deserved.”

“The boys were much stronger in the second half because of a mixture of things. We had a chance to speak to them, had the favourable weather conditions, and were much braver in possession. We created some good opportunities, and, in truth, we could have scored more. It was a good turnaround, and we showed a good mentality to make it 4-2, but, ultimately, our fundamental defending techniques have got to be better because the players have got to learn to see games like this one out.

“Every game at youth level is a learning opportunity, and you have got to look at where players are at in their journey sometimes. We have got lads at different ends of the spectrum, but what we always ask, no matter who puts on the Exeter City shirt, is that they play with effort and enthusiasm, and play with the club’s identity. The players will have time to reflect on this, before they go again against Oxford United Under-18s next time out.”

Exeter City Under-18s: Dylan Shanahan, Louie Cayless, Sam Joce, Max Edgecombe, Aamir Standford-Daniels, Harry Crees, Tom Dean, Alfie Cunningham, Callum Graham, Santino Ohanaka, Theo Cutler

Subs: Sam Down, Kye Cooper, George Birch, Kieron Wilson