Unlike following the fortunes of the first team, where players leave and arrive through decisions by the coaching staff and management. Youths team also have an additional factor that changes the squad, the player’s date of birth. Having completed the double that last two seasons, this year’s youth team look to face the challenge with a younger and smaller squad.
With Scott Gallagher, Steven Kinniburgh, Ross Harvey, Andrew Shinnie, Thomas Kind Bendiksen, Georgos Efrem, Chris Craig, Andy Little and Willie McLachlan all moving up to reserve level, Michael Donald heading to the US on a “soccer” scholarship and Jeroen Van Den Broeck returning to Belgium, that means a total of eleven players now too old from last season’s squad. In addition four younger players were also released, all would potentially feature against the youths this season, Ally Park (Hibs), Lancine Cherif (Kilmarnock), Nicky Gallagher (Motherwell) and Shaun Porter (Inverness CT).
Three new signings were made, striker Kane Hemmings from Tamworth, midfielder Tom Miller from Norwich City and just before the transfer deadline a 16 year old midfielder from New Zealand Andrew Milne. Nine players were reatined from last season’s under 15’s and now step up to under 17’s.
So the season starts with only six players on their final year at this level, with Craig McShea still recovering from the broken leg he suffered at the end of last season. The squad was dealt a further blow when new signing Tom Miller suffered a serious injury in pre-season training and would be out for some time.
The opening league game was away to Falkirk at Stirling University. In recent seasons games against Falkirk have been tight, and this was the case here with a late goal from 16 year old substitute Rhys McCabe separating the sides. Next up came a home game against Hearts, unfortunately it clashed with a first team trip to Aberdeen, so I was unable to attend. A goal in each half from Danny Wilson and Kane Hemmings meant the loss of a last minute goal did not impact on the result Rangers winning 2-1.
The last game in August was a trip to take on Aberdeen at Balgownie Playing Fields, not the best of playing surfaces so August was probably a good time to go there. Another game I was unable to attend, this time due to work commitments. Rangers went into the game without Danny Wilson, Stephen Stirling, Rhys McCabe and Kane Hemmings. An Archie Campbell hat trick gave Rangers a comfortable 3-1 win.
The first Old Firm clash at Barrowfield saw a young Rangers side produce a gutsy performance to secure an 0-0 draw. Rangers went into the game without defensive mainstays Ross Perry and Danny Wilson, as well as long term casualties Craig McShea and Tom Miller. Scott Durie was outstanding in the centre of defence. The game also saw 15 year old Kyle McAusland make his under 19 debut as a second half substitute.
Lancine Cherif made a scoring return to Murray Park in the next game, but this time in the colours of Kilmarnock. His goal cancelling out an earlier Archie Campbell strike. The winning goal came from Isa Bagci just before half time. The second half failed to produce anymore goals Rangers winning 2-1.
With both Rangers and Motherwell having a few players in the Scotland under 17’s squad for the European Championship qualifiers the next league game was postponed. Four Rangers players, Darren Cole, Max Wright, Gordon Dick and Kal Naismith contributed to Scotland qualifying in 2nd place. Gordon Dick scoring half Scotland’s eight goals in a group that included France, Slovakia and San Marino.
The impressive new Hibs Training Centre was the venue for the top of the table clash at the beginning of October. With Arturs Vaiculus away on International duty with Latvia, Grant Adam took over in goal, it also saw the first appearance of the season at Under 19’s for John Fleck. Former Rangers players Ally Park and Darren Kelly featured in the Hibs squad.
After a goaless first half, two goals early in the second half from Patrick Deane gave Hibs a two goal cushion. Substitute Gordon Dick pulled a goal back, before a harsh sending off for Chris Scott dented Rangers chances. Everyone in attendance was surprised when the referee produced a straight red for what was no more than a yellow card offence.
With two minutes left Rangers were reduced to nine men, a rash challenge from Oliver Russell, who should at least have been cautioned for a blatant body check minutes earlier, saw John Fleck raise his hands in retaliation, leaving the referee with no option to produce a red card. Nine man Rangers almost salvaged an unlikely point with the last kick of the ball, Danny Wilson hit a free kick from just outside the box only for Hibs keeper Tom Flynn to produce a stunning save low at his right hand post.
The youth’s got back to winning ways the afternoon of the club’s AGM, just along the road from Ibrox at McKenna Park against St. Mirren. Another game I missed due to work commitments, goals from Gregg Wylde, Archie Campbell & Isa Bagci gave the youngsters a comfortable 3-0 win.
Scotland’s Under 19’s qualifiers in Hungary meant another break in fixtures. With Grant Adam, Danny Wilson, Ross Perry, Stephen Stirling and Jamie Ness, (John Fleck withdrew injured), all in the squad for qualifiers against Azerbaijan, San Marino and Hungary. With two wins and a draw Scotland topped the group to qualify for the next stage.
November meant back to league duty with a game against bottom side Hamilton Accies, the game was due to be away from home, but was switched to Murray Park. After a first minute set back when Hamilton were awarded a penalty, which was saved by Arturs Vaiculus, goals from Gregg Wylde, Archie Campbell, Stephen Stirling and a first at Under 19 level for 15 year old Kyle McAusland ensured a comfortable 4-0 win.
Youth Cup action was next up for Billy Kirkwood’s side, with a home tie against Brora Rangers, the game being played at Ibrox the same day the first team were playing at Kilmarnock. Why it couldn’t have been played on the Saturday I don’t know. Six different scores, Gordon Dick, Gregg Wylde, Kane Hemmings, Kal Naismith, Max Wright & Ross Perry saw Rangers cruise into the next round.
This brings us to last weekends game, which again unfortunately clashed with the first team fixture. A 1-1 draw at home to Inverness Caley Thistle was an opportunity missed, with Hibs not playing a win would have narrowed the gap at the top to a single point. Stephen Stirling’s goal was cancelled out just before half time by Caley’s Shane Sutherland. The Rangers connection in the Caley line up was Andrew Shinnie’s younger brother Graeme, and substitute Shaun Porter who was with Rangers last season.
In summary its been a promising start for what is a young squad, with the injuries to Craig McShea and Tom Miller there has only been four 18 year olds to call on. The only two players that have started all games are 17 year olds Archie Campbell and Steven Forbes. There has been a significant contribution from several 16 year olds and 15 year old Kyle McAusland has scored his first youth league goal.
Hopefully I will be able to attend the up coming fixtures, starting with the Kilmarnock game this weekend and will keep the site updated.