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Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: Newport County 3 City 2

16 April 2024

Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: Newport County 3 City 2

16 April 2024

A slow start ended up being the undoing of Exeter City’s Under-18s last Saturday as they lost 3-2 away at Newport County U18s in their penultimate fixture of Merit League Two.

Two goals from the Exiles during the early exchanges put City on the backfoot, but once they regained their composure, they were able to halve the deficit through Tom Dean’s well-taken effort.

County made it 3-1 just before the break, however, the bulk of the chances in the second period fell the way of the Grecians, and Harry Crees scored to make it a five-goal game.

However, the visitors were unable to find a leveller, meaning despite the encouraging performance on the road, Exeter’s youngsters are still looking to turn their positives into points in the league.

Nicky Ajose took his young squad to Wales off the back of an encouraging display in a midweek friendly match against Nottingham Forest U18s.

The Devon outfit handed starts to Jude Horn and George Williams, while experienced duo, Theo Cutler and Kieron Wilson, were selected to start on the bench, and they were two of five on standby if City’s youth team required them.

Despite the Grecians’ coaches providing their young backline the incentive to build form deep and play out from the back, a slow start meant the passes in the defensive third were indecisive and limp.

With the hosts eager to press high, and exploit any frailties, Newport broke the deadlock with perhaps their first sight of goal when they intercepted a stray ball across the box, which was finished emphatically to make it 1-0.

In similar fashion, the Exiles were able to add to their lead when they capitalised on some loose play from the Exeter defenders to shoot past Sam Down in the away goal for a second time after just eight minutes.

But full credit must go to the away side in their response, as they bounced back by getting on the ball and restoring their confidence in possession to play through the thirds to get a foothold in the game.

The Devonians were soon able to find spaces through the County press, and were able to get into some promising positions, particularly in the wider channels, where a number of crosses into the box led to some opportunities.

As the half went on, Horn and Williams were proving to be a decent outlet for City on the left flank, and through the pair’s good work, they were able to help provide a way back into the contest for their team. Horn was able to locate Dean with a flashing cross, and the Grecians’ captain arrived at the near post to neatly slot the ball past the helpless goalkeeper around the half an hour mark.

The momentum and belief remained with the visitors, and they created several good opportunities which they should have taken with half-time on the horizon.

But the Devon outfit were made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal, as the two-goal lead was restored in the closing stages of the first period when the Welshmen took full advantage of some inaccurate play to make it 3-1.

Following an interval where Ajose and the other Exeter coaches re-emphasised what was working for the team, an upbeat response came from the players, who created a number of clear-cut openings to haul themselves to within one goal once again.

The home team also had chances, and they should have probably extended their lead on a couple of occasions when a header from five yards failed to really test Down.

The fifth goal of the day came at the other end, and came as a result of some of the promising passages of play put together by City’s players. Despite seeing their previous attacks halted by some last-ditch tackles, and some desperate blocks, Crees was able to convert the next chance to set up a thrilling final period of the match.

However, despite the opportunities that opened themselves up for the Grecians, and the likes of Aidan Bown, Cutler, and Wilson all featuring from the bench, the away team were unable to finish any of those efforts leaving them a goal short on the scoreboard when the full-time whistle sounded.

Exeter City’s Under-18s Assistant Coach, Chris McPhee: “We started really slow, and were quite tentative in possession. We invited pressure onto ourselves as we weren’t able to deliver the right weight of pass on what was a bit of a soft, slow pitch. A big part of our game is moving the ball quickly to exploit the gaps in our opponents press and slice through the pitch at pace and unfortunately we didn't move the ball quickly enough, or adapt the conditions well enough early on. Going 2-0 down took the pressure off from the players somewhat, we relaxed in possession and we improved our speed from then on. We were punished for a lacklustre start to the game in the first ten minutes where we concede the two early goals, however, from then on, the players were able to refocus, and believed in what we do and how we play. The last 80 minutes of the game we outplay out opponents 2-1.

“Our attacking play was really good, but we failed to be ruthless, and we were unable to capitalise on the game’s key moments. The result is a bit frustrating for the boys, but if you look at the last 75-80 minutes of the game, we were far more dominant than the opposition, and improved throughout the game, but our decision making was also in need of improvement. We held onto the ball for too long and were caught in key areas of the pitch, opening ourselves up to be countered.

“A real positive was how the backline were able to show a resilience after a shaky start, and despite the defence including an Under-15, two Under-16s and a first-year scholar, they were able to deal with Newport’s direct style. George Williams, making his full debut for the Under-18s, turns 14 next weekend, played the full 90 minutes and was very effective going forward supplying plenty of crosses, and was hard-working out of possession. He is an exciting prospect, and I hope he enjoyed his experience with the squad.

It is fantastic to take a step back from things, and detach yourself from the emotions immediately afterwards, to have a bit of a reality check and appreciate that for a team to have so many youngsters, who were able to be technically superior than their opponent, who had players in their team, physically, the size of men. Those are the discussions we have as coaches afterwards, and it is a real positive for us that they don’t look out of place, they hold their own and show their quality. That is a real positive for us as an Academy as we look to equip our players with everything they need strive for our first-team as much as possible. The boys aren’t quite reaping the benefits from their performances at present, but I feel it is only a matter of time before they get it on a match day, and secure a win.

“We play Northampton Town U18s at home next, and we will be looking to continue to build on areas we’ve seen progress in recently. As a group, we want to have a positive week, and I have no doubt the players will work hard to ready themselves, and close the season with a performance they’re happy with. We shouldn’t take away any of the growth the group have shown in this calendar year, and if we were more clinical, the league would look very different. Tom Dean asid , this is the group that will go into next season with good experience of this level of football and time spent playing together, its great preparation ahead of a new campaign”

Exeter City Under-18s: Sam Down, Louie Cayless, Tobias Alsop, Liam Oakes, Jude Horn, Tom Dean, George Birch, Harry Crees, Callum Graham, George Wiliams, Santino Ohanaka

Subs: Luke Hodgets, Aidan Bown, Harry Appleton, Kieron Wilson, Theo Cutler

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