EXETER City’s Under-18s advanced into the third round of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup following a penalty shoot-out victory over Oxford United U18s last weekend, writes Derek Baker.
It was the U’s who started the contest stronger, as striker Louis Griffiths saw two chances fall his way inside the opening 10 minutes.
A quick drinks break allowed the Exeter coaching staff an opportunity to try and solve the team’s early issues, however, the momentum never subsided, with the home team unlucky not to have won themselves a penalty during the game’s next flashpoint.
The breakthrough came after 35 minutes when Oxford’s Monty Marriott punted a goal kick towards Kasway Burton. The winger dribbled down the flank and pulled the ball back for Jack Lee, who finished decisively to break the deadlock.
Moments before the interval, the hosts bagged a second when they worked the ball into an advanced area. Play moved towards the middle before Holton reached the ball first to guide an effort into the back of the net for 2-0.
In response, ECFC’s U18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati, changed his side’s formation at half-time, which helped with the tactics they deployed out of possession.
That Devon club soon got on the front foot, and they soon halved the deficit after Rashane Maxwell lost possession. That high press allowed Theo Cutler to get on the ball in a dangerous position, and he curled a lovely finish past the goalkeeper to bring his team back into it.
The majority of the action came at that end of the pitch, and City deservedly drew level in the 69th minute. The Grecians initially tried their luck from a free-kick, which crashed against the crossbar, however, Tom Dean reacted quickest to the rebound, and he forced the ball over the goal line to complete the comeback.
Due to the format of the competition forcing ties to be decided on the day, the lottery of penalties was going to determine who progressed into the next round after the referee blew for the end of regular time.
With Exeter converting all their attempts from 12 yards, it was they who secured their name in the hat for round three courtesy of a 5-4 shoot-out win.
After the tie, Donati admitted it was a good test for his players.
'We didn’t start particularly well, and at half-time we had to change things. We altered our shape, and brought on Kieran Wilson, and George Birch to play either side of our attack.
'It was a game of two halves really, and after we changed shape, the boys really adapted well to it. Harry Crees, gave us composure in midfield, so all three subs made a real impact. After it went 2-2, we still dominated and created some decent chances.
'Ultimately, we want to get as far as we can in this competition, and silverware would have to be the aim, but we just want to push ourselves up to the next level.'