Exeter City’s Under-18s endured a difficult day on Saturday as Swindon Town U18s ran out 6-0 victors at the Royal Agricultural University.
Botan Ameen’s lobbed effort opened the scoring after 10 minutes, and, despite some controlling periods of possession from the visitors, Joel McGregor and Fletcher Hubbard gave the Robins a commanding lead at the interval.
McGregor struck a further two times in the second half to complete his hattrick, before Alistair Stewart’s close-range effort secured the emphatic result.
The Grecians’ first league defeat since mid-September therefore leaves them with 10 points, seventh in the Youth Alliance South West divisional standings.
Exeter’s youngsters travelled north up the M5 in the hope they could bounce back from their FA Youth Cup elimination.
The Devonians opted for Dan Layer in between the sticks, while Kye Cooper and Aamir Stanford-Daniels were selected to face an in-form Robins side who were looking to make inroads on the league’s top two sides.
Despite the cold and icy conditions, City were looking to implement their passing game on the slow pitch, with the hope a fast start could give them a platform to build from.
Playing up the slight incline though also made things tricky for the visitors, and they were behind in just the 10th minute courtesy of a well-taken goal; Layer looked to clear his lines following a ball over the top, however, his clearance fell kindly for Town’s Botan, who lobbed the ball from 35 yards over the stranded goalkeeper and into the empty net to break the deadlock.
The Grecians responded well to going behind and played with real purpose as they searched for a leveller. Two minutes after the opener, the Exeter forward line of Kieran Wilson, Santino Ohanaka and Theo Cutler troubled their opponents, with the latter forcing Redman Evans into a decent stop.
Evans denied Cutler once again in another major flashpoint moments later, and they were soon punished, as the second goal of the day came at the other end, when the home team made the most of a contentious refereeing decision. In their defensive third, the Devon club looked to build, however, a square ball appeared to have been stopped by an outstretched arm. The officials failed to award a free-kick and McGregor waltzed into the middle of the goal before smashing the ball into the bottom corner to double his team’s lead just before the midpoint of the first half.
That goal seemed to knock some of the wind out of the City sails, as Swindon’s confidence grew. Botan struck the crossbar as the clock ticked into the second quarter, but, his team did grab their third goal on 32 minutes. A slight bit of contact inside the 18-yard box saw the man in the middle signal for a penalty, and Hubbard slotted his 12-yard attempt down the middle to make it 3-0.
Despite being three goals down, the away team continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession however, and showed some dominating spells with the ball. As the teams went into the break, regardless of the scoreline, the away coaches were in fact encouraged by what they saw in the first 45. The second period saw the away side make some personnel changes with the hope they could add a new impetus to the field of play as Ollie Saunders and Luke Hodgetts were introduced.
But despite the intention of playing through the lines and switching play to exploit the spaces, the Grecians always looked vulnerable to the counter-attack, as the Wiltshire outfit executed their direct style with devastating effect.
Exeter enjoyed the first real chance after half-time, but the Robins blocked well through Finn Adams.
And in a demonstration of real potency, Town grabbed their fourth goal of the day just before the hour mark. A short-free-kick routine got McGregor within shooting distance and his floated effort found the postage stamp to increase the lead once again.
The forward completed his hattrick nine minutes later after Evans went route one with a long ball which went over the Devonians’ backline. McGregor raced through one-v-one, and he left Saunders no chance as he tucked the ball cooly into the back of the net to make it 5-0.
The scoring ended six minutes before the full-time whistle as Swindon scored from another set-piece. A low corner located the run of Alistair, who got free of his marker and tapped the ball home on the half-volley to complete the rout.
City’s youngsters will be hoping to learn from the lessons of this game and quickly move on, as they will want to end the calendar year on a high, with the Christmas break on the horizon. Just a few matches remain in 2023, with their next outing the perfect opportunity to put together a positive response from their defeat here.
Exeter City’s Youth Development Phase Lead Coach, Chris McPhee: “From a coach’s perspective, despite the scoreline, we were actually encouraged by some of the things we saw, and the Swindon coaches, after the game, said how impressed they were with the way we played.
“We were probably the more dominant team in possession and stayed true to our identity in difficult circumstances. Although this isn’t a win, and it ended up being 6-0, there were actually positives to take from it.
“The scoreline is the scoreline, but in what we are looking for in terms of the players and their development, we were happy with how we played. We created opportunities off the back of playing the Exeter City way, and the scoreline ended up being what it was as it came down to some big moments - if the referee awards the handball for their second goal, and doesn’t give the penalty, and we manage to score our chances, it could’ve been different; 2-2 was probably a fair scoreline at half-time.
“We have just got to take our chances. The opponent in those moments showed the composure that was needed, and Theo Cutler’s two 1v1s were stopped by some good speed from the goalkeeper in the first instance, and in the second we just needed to show a little more awareness. But in terms of getting into those positions, we made the right runs and decisions, we just needed to display moments of calmness.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Dan Layer, Louie Cayless, Sam Joce, Tom Dean, Jude Horn, Kye Cooper, Aamir Stanford-Daniels, Jake Richards, Kieran Wilson, Santino Ohanaka, Theo Cutler
Subs: Ollie Saunders, Aidan Bown, Jude Horn, Luke Hodgetts, Alfie Cunningham, Callum Graham