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Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: City 4 MK Dons 3

Derek Baker reports on a win for the young Grecians

8 March 2024

Match Reports

📝 Under-18 Report: City 4 MK Dons 3

Derek Baker reports on a win for the young Grecians

8 March 2024

Exeter City’s Under-18s began their Merit League Two campaign with a 4-3 home victory over Milton Keynes Dons U18s last Friday.

Kye Cooper’s diving header 27 minutes in broke the deadlock for the Grecians, before the lead was doubled shortly after by Theo Cutler.

The Dons halved the deficit on the hour mark, before Tom Dean re-established the two-goal cushion six minutes later.

In a frantic final period, the visitors made it 3-2 in the 82nd minute, while an own goal handed City their fourth in injury time. MK hit back with the final attack of the game, but the Devon club held on to secure maximum points in what became a seven-goal thriller.

Following the conclusion of the regular fixtures in the Youth Alliance South West division, Exeter’s youngsters were hoping two friendly matches had prepared them for their opening fixture in the Merit League.

Meanwhile, the Milton Keynes youth side had finished bottom of the South East league during the first part of the season, so they were hoping to start this new set of fixtures on a positive note.

Goalkeeper Dylan Shanahan was selected to start in goal for the hosts, while Liam Cartwright and Harry Crees also were brought back in by Nicky Ajose.

In a rather balanced start to the game, both sets of players were looking to get on the ball early and create some nice patterns to establish a foothold in the contest.

The first chance came when the Grecians put their opponents under pressure courtesy of their high press. City’s Jake Richards nipped in and set up Tom Dean to shoot from distance, but the effort was gathered at the second attempt by the Dons goalie.

Arguably, however, Shanahan was the busier of the two shot-stoppers as three minutes the Devonians’ defence lost possession as they looked to build from the back. The away side manoeuvred the ball to their striker, but the resulting strike was pushed away by Shanahan.

Shanahan saved a one-on-one opportunity moments later, while MK forced the Exeter ‘keeper into more action when he punched away a dangerous set-piece after 18 minutes.

In reply, Dean went close with a direct free-kick, but the breakthrough came in just before the half-hour mark through another dead-ball scenario for the home team.

Dean played a short pass inside to Richards, who in turn floated a ball to the far post. Left-winger, Kye Cooper, managed to get the run on his marker, and he climbed highest to divert his diving header into the back of the net to open the scoring.

While proceedings were rather tight before the goal, the opener seemed to liven both sides up, in the space of a minute, chances at either end meant the scoreline could have changed straight after.

But the Grecians didn’t dwell on their squandered chance, and they netted soon after through a lovely team move that ended with Dean firing a low cross into the danger area, and Cutler coolly sweeping home a finish to make it 2-0.

City were really finding their groove at that point, and just two minutes later, they thought they had another when a deep cross came in from the right-hand side byline, however, the linesman adjudged that the ball went out of play before it was put in by an unfortunate defender.

With several waves of attacks coming from the Devon club, they won themselves a penalty after 39 minutes when Callum Graham was floored by a desperate lunge. It was Cutler who stepped up, however, Exeter’s number nine was unable to convert from 12 yards with the goalie saving well to tip the ball wide.

With the break on the horizon, the two teams traded chances, with Richards seeing his effort parried over the top, but, when when the half-time whistle sounded, there was a sense that the next goal was potentially crucial.

Much like the first period, both teams came out and were cancelling each other out in the early exchanges in the hope they could create a bit of magic or force an opposition player into a mistake to open up a clear-cut chance.

An expectant response did come from the Milton Keynes players in the end, and after trying to pierce their way through the middle, which led to a brave block from Louie Cayless, the Dons came within inches of scoring when they whistled a shot just past Shanahan’s left upright.

The Grecians’ first opportunity of the second half came in the 58th minute when arguably they should have put the game beyond sight, however, the effort from Crees was denied by the feet of the away goalkeeper.

That miss led to a break for MK, and after threatening down the left flank on several occasions beforehand, the Dons manipulated play to reach that same touchline once again. A low cross came into the centre, before it was struck past Shanahan by one of the Milton Keynes forwards to restore some hope to the travelling party.

But that optimism was quickly extinguished courtesy of the hosts’ reaction. As the match approached its final quarter, City moved the ball down their left side so that captain Max Edgecombe could whip in a cross. The ball fell nicely for Dean, and he arrowed a first-time effort into the bottom corner to make it 3-1 while the MK players complained the ball had gone out of play in the build-up.

After the two-goal lead was restored, the Devon club introduced fresh legs as Guilio Marroni and Alfie Cunningham entered the fray.

The visitors, despite still being on the wrong end of a four-goal game, continued to look for ways back into the contest, and with 11 minutes remaining, their own substitute was denied by a decent stop by Shanahan.

Out of nothing, MK hauled themselves back into contention again though when they pinched the ball from Marroni as the replacement looked to start an Exeter move from deep. With the referee not awarding a foul as Marroni fell to the floor, the ball was moved right, and the resulting cross was confidently dispatched for 3-2.

Cunningham seemingly injected some life into the home side’s ranks, and as the Grecians looked to bounce back from their latest setback, the replacement curled a shot just past the far post.

Cunningham was again at the heart of City’s next promising attack when he delivered a dangerous cross into the six-yard box, but despite some desperate lunges to poke the ball past the stricken Milton Keynes goalkeeper, the ball evaded everyone and went behind for a goal kick.

With the clock in the red, another threatening ball into the danger area did result in a goal three minutes later, however, with the Devon club, this time, attacking down the right. A low ball seemed to deceive the Dons shot-stopper, and he fumbled the ball over the line to make it 4-2.

But the away side did hit back instantly in the dying minutes of stoppage time when Shanahan initially denied a powerful strike, however, the rebound was tucked away to create a nervy last few seconds of the game. Exeter’s youngsters though held on to their lead to begin the Merit League with maximum points.

Exeter City’s Under-18s Assistant Coach, Chris McPhee: “One of the main messages we have been reminding the group is that our games regularly look the same where we dominate possession, particularly in the first half, and then it becomes a bit of a basketball match. The challenge we have set the group is that when the opposition step up, we need to react in such a way that enables us to reestablish control, maintain possession, and be more patient in our play. We let the game drift a but when we went 2-0 up and allowed the opposition to force the game into a high turnover spell. We are helping the players recognize these moments and hope they can find ways of dictating the tempo and flow of the game ourselves. 

“We often talk about key moments in the game, and at 2-0 up, we almost scored a third through Harry Crees after some really good play, and then they go up the other end and score. We have spoken a lot about being more ruthless at big moments in games. We have scored lots of fantastic goals this season, playing quickly and out from the back, but sometimes it is about having a spell, regrouping, and changing our tempo to demonstrate more control for longer passages in games.

“The boys are becoming good at capitalising on opportunities, and their ability to raise levels when required following setbacks and that is really encouraging, but we can also flip that and ask the question why they aren’t already at those heightened levels. If you look at the team here today and in recent weeks, they are a young group, today the lineup included five schoolboys. We can get a level of inconsistency, as they don't train every day with the group and have a big school focus, however, we are challenging the squad, in particular the scholars to show more of that consistency that is required to regain control of situations to support and stimulate the younger players. 

“There is progress for the group moving forward, and they can look back and be satisfied they got over the line despite the pressure they were put under, but it is important to reflect on the positives in games. We will continue to try and play our brand of football, but it is really important that the players recognise this is a platform to build on for the second half of the season and through out the merit league.

Exeter City Under-18s: Dylan Shanahan, Louie Cayless, Liam Cartwright, Max Edgecombe, Liam Oakes, Tom Dean, Harry Crees, Jake Richards, Kye Cooper, Callum Graham, Theo Cutler

Subs: Dan Layer, Guilio Marroni, Alfie Cunningham, Kieron Wilson


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