All good things have to come to an end though and today saw what is nominally called the Under 21 team get a rather lucky 3-3 draw thanks to a very late equaliser by Jon Meades (I think)* and an excellent individual display by Kevin Sainte-Luce the young French winger who turned in what was comfortably the best performance I have seen from him since I first watched him play early last season – he has been much improved from last year for the Academy team this time around, but this was another level up from his recent good displays for the Under 18 team.
I say that it is nominally an Under 21 team, but this time the side did have a younger look to it than normal as players such as Heaton, Gyepes, Quinn, Keinan, Wildig, McPhail and Ralls who I have all seen play for this side at various times were all missing for one reason or another. The team today consisted of three senior players (Naylor, Taiwo and Parkin) and eight youngsters and the fact that the last two named were substituted by Neil Ardley shows that they didn’t have the impact you might have expected them to. With Naylor having a poorer game as well and many of the others in the side also having their sloppy moments, this performance was not as good as those I had seen previously from the development team, but some credit for this should be given to an Exeter side who should really have won the game but wasted numerous good chances after the break.
There was little to indicate that there would be six goals in the game in the opening stages as City began in distracted fashion and apart from a shot that Eliot Parrish (at least I think it was him and not Jordan Santiago) saved pretty easily, Exeter didn’t offer much of a threat either. Sainte-Luce was already making an impact though and, although it was a bit of a shock when a goal came around the twenty minute mark, the identity of the scorer was not too surprising as Parkin and Meades worked Saint-Luce into space – the winger than beat a man, took the ball almost to the byeline before scoring with the outside of his right foot when most people were expecting him to cross.Kevin Sainte-Luce - a goal today, but it was his awareness and vision that most impressed me.
For a while after this, City were comfortably the better team without really looking like adding to their lead – Jon Parkin invariably has loads of goal attempts in these games and his shot flew just over after Sainte-Luce, showing a maturity and appreciation of others that is not always there in his game, cleverly set him up. Parkin was then not too far away with an outrageous attempt from inside his own half as City began to show signs of warming to their task, but the sloppiness that characterised their display today was never too far away and within three minutes they found themselves 2-1 down. Exeter’s equaliser came when Alex Evans (who had been playing well until then) lost possession as last man and brought down the striker who had robbed him to give Exeter a penalty that they duly scored and then poor defending from a corner enabled the visitors to take a surprise lead. City hit back strongly in the few minutes that remained before half time though with Parkin’s shot being tipped on to the bar by the Exeter keeper and then the striker firing wide after Sainte-Luce again caused consternation in the visiting defence.
You had the feeling that City could go on and win the game in the second half and Ibby Farah soon had them on level terms again after the break. What happened next represented another surprise in a game that had more than it’s fair share of them, because Exeter now got right on top. With Evans seemingly effected by his earlier mistake, they pressed right up on the City defence when they tried to play the ball out from the back and were able to gain possession on many occasions in very dangerous areas of the pitch. Evans did well to get back and foil what looked to be a simple run in on goal for an Exeter forward and bravely kept on showing for the ball when the keeper had it – he was able to prompt one or two attacks with the decent delivery from the back that is normally a feature of his game, but he like a few others in the side, was easily picked off on occasions.
Exeter didn’t score from these City lapses, but they did hit the post and have countless shots roll just wide from very promising shooting positions while, the lively and inventive Sainte-Luce apart, City had little to offer in reply. Half chances kept falling to Parkin, but his finishing in the development games I’ve seen has not been good and after he had wasted another good opportunity, inevitably provided by Sainte-Luce, Neil Ardley made a triple substitution with the number 10, who I assume was a trialist, being withdrawn along with the two senior players I mentioned earlier.
Before that though, Exeter had taken the lead again and, unfortunately, it was another bad error that cost them – this time Parrish fumbled a straightforward shot and the ball squirmed in via a post. To be fair to the keeper, he partly redeemed himself within seconds with a fine save as Exeter carved us open yet again and he did well to keep out a couple of other efforts as the visitors looked much more likely to get the goal that would clinch their win than City did of finding an equaliser – but the game was to have one last surprise. With time almost up, Sainte-Luce combined well with Adedeji Oshilala (who, as usual, was one of the better City players on view) and the latter’s cross was knocked in by Meades* (at least I think it was him – I was in the car park stood about two hundred yards away at the time!) – as had been the case throughout the second half, both sides went flat out for more goals, but an entertaining and error packed match finished level at 3-3, a scoreline which certainly flattered City.
* The goal was in fact scored by sub Yannis Drais.