Rangers U20s faced up against Old Firm rivals Celtic in the Youth Cup Final at Hampden last night looking to retain the trophy following last year’s penalty shoot-out win over a Hearts side containing many current first team members.
However, if you tuned into the game hoping to scout potential stars of the future then you’ll have been bitterly disappointed by this showing as the Gers went down 5-2 to their historic rivals. One thing you may have picked up on though was that Scott Brown took the Celtic warm up and has apparently taken a keen interest in working with their youngsters. As much as we don’t like him, we could do with a captain who shows commitment like that.
Ian Durrant looked to have sent out an experienced team with several of those playing already having made their first-team debuts. They lined up as follows:
Liam Kelly; Ryan Sinnamon (c), Craig Halkett, Luca Gasparotto, Ross McCrorie; Kevin Mbabu, Fraser Aird; Tom Walsh, Darren Ramsay, Jay Mills; Ryan Hardie.
Setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation though, it looked like Durrant had taken a leaf out Walter and Ally’s book of tricks by shoe-horning players into unfamiliar roles.
McCrorie, captain of the Under 17s side is a left footed centre back, so to push him into a full back role in such a big occasion against older opposition was a big ask in my opinion and it backfire horribly as he was hooked at half time having been given a torrid time by eventual Man of the Match, Aidan Nesbitt.
Kevin Mbabu came to Glasgow with a reputation as a no nonsense centre-back who could fill in at right full back in needed. However, he was asked to shield the back four alongside Fraser Aird who already has two senior campaigns under his belt as a nippy winger. To me, that signified that Durrant didn’t have confidence in our natural central midfielders as he looked to pack the midfield with ‘older’ heads. The Canadian was the player with the most experience on the park but he was unable to impose himself on the game which was a worrying sign for a player who has been frozen out by McCall.
Jay Mills – a left full-back – took up the ‘Stevie Smith’ mantle. Playing as a left midfielder, it gave out the feeling that we had accepted our inferiority before a ball was even kicked and we were unable to play our way out of the sustained pressure from an impressive Celtic side.
Ryan Hardie played the ‘Kenny Miller’ role of lone striker and was up against two imposing centre-halves in Stuart Findlay and Eoghan O’Connell.
Celtic started the brighter and dominated possession but it was Rangers who had the better chances in the opening twenty minutes as Ramsay’s 30-yard strike skimmed the roof of the net, while Mbabu should have hit the target from a header from a Ramsay corner – his set-piece deliveries were very good which was refreshing.
However, Celtic took the lead when a floated corner evaded the heads of the numerous players challenging for the ball before rather unfortunately hitting off the unsighted Gasparotto’s knee. He couldn’t react in time and the ball trundled towards the goal line where Wardrop was there to tap in despite the best efforts of Mills and Kelly on the line.
Just sixty seconds later though, the ball was in the back of the Celtic net after good pressure from Hardie resulted in a mix up between Waters and the goalkeeper Hart. The defender tried to knock the header back to his goalkeeper but Hart had already came out to claim the ball and thy watched in horror as the ball rolled into the empty net.
You would have thought that would have spurred us on but all it did was seem to instil a complacency in the players. On the 27th minute, Nesbitt received the ball on the right flank where Mills and McCrorie were there to double up on him – most probably a deliberate ploy by Durrant to counter their most potent attacking threat. After a series of twists and turns, he was able to wriggle through both of them before cutting back onto his right foot where he unleashed a great strike across the helpless Kelly into the far bottom right corner.
This wasn’t to be the last piece of goalmouth action in the first half though as Celtic got their third goal in thirteen minutes. After some more good work down the right, Nesbitt managed to dig out a cross from the by-line where Donnelly was waiting in the box. Halkett allowed him to bring the ball down with his right foot and an incisive turn saw him get his toe to the ball before Gasaparotto who had come sliding in to try and bail out his defensive partner.
Durrant rang the changes at half time bringing on Dylan Dykes and Jamie Burrows to replace Kevin Mbabu and Ross McCrorie. It was a wise move as the former was in danger of being sent off after a heavy tackle saw him escape with only a booking. With the latter, I hope that this experience hasn’t damaged McCrorie’s confidence though as the physical jump between playing at U17 level and U20 level is huge, not to mention that he was up against a player who Ronny Deila rates very highly. After watching the U17s final the other week, I think that with his cultured left foot and quick turn of pace, his style is in the mould of Danny Wilson, but he needs to work on building himself up and working on his starting position as a few times he was caught out.
Even after the changes were made, we still didn’t compete nearly enough and another two sloppy goals were given away. A counter attack saw the heart of our defence cut open at ease where Nesbitt was able to finish high at the near post after Kelly had gambled he was going across goal.
Minutes later he completed his hat trick when Mills fired a pass at Halkett in his own box putting him under pressure. His touch was slightly heavy which allowed the Celtic player to nip in ahead of him and poke the ball away where he was then upended somewhat clumsily by Halkett.
We scored a late consolation with a couple of minutes to go when Dylan Dykes had a couple of attempts from inside the box before he manages to scramble the ball into the net.
All in all it was a very disappointing performance but if I had to pick anyone out who impressed it would be the captain, Sinnamon. He looked assured on the ball and looked to get up and down the right channel at every opportunity. He managed to hold strong defensively on his side of the park, but unfortunately the damage was inflicted from the right wing on most occasions.
Walsh looked composed on the ball too but struggled to get into the game, Ramsay looks to have ability but again was limited due to our lack of possession and Hardie was isolated and received literally no service whatsoever but worked his socks off chasing lost causes.
And for anyone who says that results don’t matter at this level, then that’s part of the problem with our youth set-up. This is Under 20s football, not under 10s. At this stage their footballing development is almost complete. It is about developing a winning mentality which filters through all age groups while maintaining a stylish brand of football. But that brand of football has to produce results, not just players. Yes, it would have been nice for us to play the same way as Celtic did last night but in the end it is about the result and we should be unhappy not only with the performance but more importantly the way in which there seems to be a lack of a competitive edge which contributed to the emphatic scoreline.