EXETER City’s Under-18s began the 2023/2024 Youth Alliance South West division in the best possible way with a 2-0 victory over Swindon Town U18s at the weekend, writes Derek Baker.

In variable conditions at the Cliff Hill Training Ground, the early exchanges saw both teams try to acclimatise to their surroundings.

The game settled afterwards, and it was the visitors who built up a rhythm. In the 12th minute, Tom Dean was robbed of the ball, but the Town striker dragged his one-on-one chance horribly off target.

Swindon continued to knock at the door, and they saw a goal disallowed for offside after 17 minutes. Moments later, the Robins spurned another opportunity when a poor first touch meant another opening was wasted.

Home goalkeeper, Dylan Shanahan, made a big contribution in the 18th minute when a loose pass gifted a Town midfielder possession. Shanahan’s left foot, however, deflected the resulting shot away to keep matters goalless.

On 34 minutes, Shanahan once again denied the Robins, however, the game's turning point came just before the interval. Alfie Cunningham was felled by a dangerous sliding challenge from Swindon’s Josh Keyes, which gave the referee very little option but to brandish a red card.

The Grecians used that man advantage to control proceedings after the break. Some good link-up play in the 56th minute saw Cunningham release Dean down the right. An inside ball tried locating Theo Cutler, but the attacker couldn't strike the ball cleanly.

Just before the midpoint of the half, the deadlock was broken courtesy of another sweeping City move. Cunningham got to the byline, and although the playmaker’s cross was initially repelled, Maroni picked the ball up, and his first-time cross-shot found Dean at the far post, who converted from close range to open the scoring.

The lead was doubled on 72 minutes when Maroni clipped a ball down the right flank. Dean's low ball wasn’t dealt with initially, which allowed Cutler to pounce on the ball, before the striker slotted a shot into the bottom corner to send the onwatching Exeter fans wild.

The visitors tried to get a foothold in the game, but they rarely made a dent in the Devonians’ defence. With 10 minutes remaining, Swindon should have done better from a set-piece when a free header was glanced wide.

The referee blew for full-time shortly after, which meant City’s youngsters secured maximum points from their opening fixture, ahead of their trip to Portsmouth U18s for their next league game on Saturday.

After the game, ECFC Under-18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati, admitted it was the dream start to his side's league campaign.

'It is a pleasing start to the season, with a clean sheet, two goals, and some real good patterns of play as well.

'I told the players at the end that this was only one game, so it is great to have the goals and the clean sheet, but it is still only one game ahead of a long season.'