EXETER City’s Under-18s drew with Portsmouth U18s in a six-goal thriller in the Youth Alliance South West division on Saturday, writes Derek Baker.
The game started rather cagey, and while both sets of players enjoyed some long spells of possession, arguably, the defences were on top inside the opening quarter of an hour.
City’s first real opportunity came on 16 minutes when Callum Graham looked for Theo Cutler, but the striker was unable to get on the end of the cross, and the danger was cleared.
The contest became a real tactical battle, with neither club able to establish a dominance. It took until the 32nd minute until the first shot on target came when Sam Joce’s header was comfortably saved.
Pompey were perhaps edging the territory battle though, as they used the flanks to move up the pitch. And with five minutes of the first half remaining, they opened the scoring in spectacular style when captain Mitch Aston curled a free-kick into the top corner to break the deadlock.
The two sides traded chances during the latter stages of the half, but, when the referee blew for the break, there was a sense that the game was still waiting to ignite.
The equaliser arrived in the early stages of the second period when Graham's lofted ball found the run of Cutler. The City forward maintained his composure, and slotted the ball home to restore parity in the 53rd minute.
A few moments later, the Devonians netted again. Louie Cayless fed Graham down the right wing, before the resulting cross was missed by the ‘keeper, and Tom Dean tucked the ball into the unguarded net.
The lead was doubled on 66 minutes when one away defender was adjudged to have handled the ball. Cutler converted the resulting spot-kick to make it 3-1.
Pompey, however, refused to lie down, and just seven minutes later, they pulled a goal back thanks to a diving header from Luke Staight.
The momentum had shifted, and, as the match entered the final 15 minutes, two efforts from the away team both went narrowly off-target.
Pompey thought they had grabbed their third of the day in the 81st minute following a surge down the left, however, the assistant referee flagged for an offside.
Portsmouth turned the screw during the closing stages, and they clipped the top of the crossbar through a header when they threatened via a set-piece.
In response, Exeter's Aamir Stanford-Daniels blazed a chance wide, but seemingly it appeared that if the afternoon’s sixth goal did arrive, it was only going to go one way.
In the 89th minute, Pompey got what they wanted. The visitors shifted the ball right, before Sam Folarin outmuscled Cayless. The forward then smashed home an effort to level the scores in dramatic fashion.
The full-time whistle sounded not long after, and naturally, the hosts were disappointed not to hold on, however, a positive result and performance against a talented Portsmouth team can only give the Exeter players huge confidence going forward.