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Match Reports

📝 U18 Report: Bristol Rovers 5 City 2

Derek Baker reports on a tough afternoon for the U18s

19 March 2024

Match Reports

📝 U18 Report: Bristol Rovers 5 City 2

Derek Baker reports on a tough afternoon for the U18s

19 March 2024

Exeter City’s Under-18s were on the end of a second consecutive defeat in Merit League Two as they were on the wrong end of a 5-2 scoreline against Bristol Rovers at the weekend.

Theo Cutler handed the Grecians the lead inside the first 10 minutes, however, they were pegged back just before the interval to set up an intriguing second half.

A deflected effort handed the Pirates the lead, before a quick-fire double put Rovers well ahead on the scoreline at 4-1 up.

The Devonians responded with a bright spell of their own, but their opponents netted again, before Alfie Cunningham bagged a consolation in injury time.

With the hope that Exeter’s youngsters could respond to their defeat away at Gillingham U18s, City were on the road again, as they travelled up the M5 to face familiar opposition.

George Birch and Santino Ohanaka were selected to start by Nicky Ajose, while Dan Layer was chosen as the goalkeeper as the away side shuffled the pack and rotated some of the personnel.

From the first minute, the contest was rather end-to-end, with both teams playing some free-flowing football as they looked to make an early breakthrough.

Despite both sets of players looking relatively threatening in the opening exchanges, it was the Grecians who broke the deadlock near the 10th minute following some nice build-up play.

Some precise play saw the ball clipped into midfield, before a lovely through pass slipped in Cutler, and the striker curled a beautiful finish into the far corner to make it 1-0.

The Devon outfit looked neater in possession, and they looked for ways to extend their advantage often by playing quickly through the thirds and splitting the home side open via a defence-splitting pass. 

The Gas, however, looked their most dangerous when they managed to bypass the City press with some slick ball work, or when they pinched possession from the Exeter players in compromising positions. 

The match was scrappy in some parts, as there were lots of turnovers and mistakes, which in turn meant the scoreline could’ve become more like a cricket match had either team been more clinical in the penalty boxes.

But the Bristol club were able to take one of their chances in the closing stages of the first period, when arguably it had been the visitors who had been the better team.

After the break, the opening 20 minutes of the second half followed a similar pattern, with both sides looking to score the all-important third goal of the day.

Despite the high energy levels, and high amount of ground covered though, the likes of Cutler, Ohanaka and Callum Graham were just unable to carve open a golden opportunity for themselves to restore the Grecians’ lead.

The Pirates took the lead for the first time following that open spell of the game, after they stole possession around 30 yards from goal. The resulting effort took a nick on its way that deceived goalkeeper Dan Layer, before the ball ended up in the back of his net.

The conceded goal was a real sucker punch for the Devon club, as there were signs that they had taken control of possession, and were starting to dominate the ball.

But despite the setback, Exeter looked comfortable on the ball once again, and they enjoyed a period that saw them create opportunities for an equaliser, however, their usual clinical nature was just lacking at a crucial point in the match.

Two goals in two minutes for the hosts made it 4-1 though, and seemingly gave City a proverbial mountain to climb, but their response was good as they rallied together to play with purpose.

Despite the scoreline, the visitors created numerous scoring chances courtesy of their patient build-up play, where they were able to advance down the wings and whip some dangerous crosses into the penalty box.

But the Bristolians were able to get through that phase of the contest unscathed, and they extended their lead with a fifth strike of the day.

The Grecians remained on task though, and stuck to their game plan up until the final whistle. They reaped the reward for their determination in the 94th minute when their purposeful play saw them get the ball to Cunningham, whose shot deflected past the Pirates’ goalie to make it 5-2.

With the full-time whistle sounding shortly after, that meant the result leaves the Devon outfit in sixth place in the standings after three games, with a home fixture against Cambridge United U18s in the league up next.

Exeter City’s Under-18s Assistant Coach, Chris McPhee: “Despite the result, there were some encouraging things to take from this match. In the first half, we were trying to force the ball through, and it caused the opposition problems, cutting through at pace, but sometimes it is about recognising when to do that. In the second half, we slowed the tempo down, and we weren’t afraid to go back and reset things. That caused them issues, how we were able to switch the ball to the other side, but it was a shame it was 4-1 at that point, as we had enough chances to get back into the game, and on another day, we would score more.

“We didn’t defend the box with purpose, and we didn’t control the game as we would’ve liked. Following a fight for the ball, our players can be good at cleaning possession up, but we weren’t doing that. We were having too many touches in the midfield area, and after they robbed us, they were then at our backline. We have got to win those individual duels. But there was an improvement from the young defence from the week before in defending the space in behind, and their ability to play out from the back was excellent.

“Sometimes we look for that perfect pass, and the players are fussy in their approach play. With our second goal coming from a deflection, it shows that half a yard of space can be enough, as the goalkeeper may not be set, a defender could block the eyeline, or it means a deflection could go your way and it did in that instance.

“The week is rather split as we play Fulham Under-18s in another friendly which will be a chance for more exposure into the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday footballing week, a chance to see what the next level looks like in a Category One opponent, and an opportunity to test themselves again. We then play Cambridge at home in the Merit League on Saturday.

Exeter City Under-18s: Dan Layer, Louie Cayless, Max Edgecombe, Liam Oakes, Harry Crees, George Birch, Giulio Marroni, Jake Richards, Callum Graham, Santino Ohanaka, Theo Cutler

Subs: Dylan Shanahan, Liam Cartwright, Kye Cooper, Alfie Cunningham

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