Regular youth team watchers welcomed the start of the season in anticipation, looking forward to the current squad’s attempt to match the previous two season’s double winning sides.
With only six 1990’s (that is players in their final season at under19’s) in the squad, it was a young group of players set to take up the challenge. With Craig McShea recovering from a broken leg this number was reduced to five and they were dealt a further blow when another, new signing Tom Miller sustained a serious knee injury in pre-season and was ruled out for almost the entire season.
It was a great start to the season for the lads, winning all three league games. With work and first team fixtures getting in the way I only managed along to the first game, away to Falkirk. A late goal from substitute Rhys McCabe secured a 1-0 win.
This was followed up with a 2-1 home win over Hearts, with goals from Ross Perry and new signing from Tamworth Kane Hemmings. A week later an Archie Campbell hat-trick sealed an impressive 3-1 victory away to Aberdeen.
This month only saw two league games, both of which I managed to attend. First up came and Old Firm Clash at Barrowfield, and with several players unavailable it was a great defensive performance from a young Rangers side to pick up a point in a goalless draw, with Scott Durie outstanding in central defence.
They then had to come back from a goal down when former Ranger Lacine Cherif gave Kilmarnock the lead at Murray Park. With our on loan keeper Mark Weir in the Killie goal it took another Archie Campbell goal and one from Isa Bagci to complete the successful fight back.
With European Qualifiers taking place and both Under 17’s and Under 19’s it impacted on the youth fixtures and there were only two again this month.
A trip to Hibs impressive new Training Centre saw the youths suffer their first defeat of the season. Over the ninety minutes Hibs were the better side in a game that saw Rangers reduced to nine men. Chris Scott was rather harshly given a straight red, and the home side went in to a 2-0 lead. Gordon Dick pulled a goal back to give the youngsters hope, only for John Fleck to see red for retaliation. Despite being down to nine men they almost snatched an unlikely point and only a stunning save by Hibs keeper Thomas Flynn from Danny Wilson’s free kick with the last kick of the game denied them.
In their next fixture away to St. Mirren they bounced back with a comfortable 3-0 win with goals from Campbell, Bagci and Gregg Wylde.
At Under 17’s Darren Cole, Max Wright, Gordon Dick and Kal Naismith were all selected for Scotland’s Qualifiers against San Marino, Slovakia and France. Scotland qualifying in second place, with Gordon Dick scoring in all three games.
At Under 19’s Grant Adam, Ross Perry, Stephen Stirling, Jamie Ness and Danny Wilson were selected for Scotland’s Qualifiers against Azerbaijan, San Marino and Hungary. Stephen Stirling scoring twice against San Marino and the only goal against hosts Hungary, ensuring Scotland topped the group.
In addition Arturs Vacilius and Isa Bagci were part of the successful Latvia and Turkey squads respectively.
A busy month, with four league games and the start of their defence of the Youth Cup. It started with a comfortable 4-0 win at home to Hamilton Accies with goals from Wylde, Campbell, Stirling & McAusland.
Six different scorers saw them ease past Brora Rangers in the cup. Next up came Inverness CT at home and disappointingly Stephen Stirling’s goal was only enough for a point.
They got back on track with narrow victories away to Kilmarnock and home to Motherwell, 1-0(Hemmings) and 2-1 (Bagci & Campbell) respectively.
This month also saw Scotland’s under 16’s Victory Shield campaign live on Sky TV. With Adam Hunter, Michael Noble, Nicky Main, Dylan McGeough & Kyle McAusland providing the Rangers contingent.
Only two games before the winter break saw a couple of uninspired performances. Firstly an unspectacular 3-1 cup win over Dumbarton and then more dropped points at home in the league in a 1-1 draw with St. Mirren. The only highlight being Archie Campbell’s three goals over the two games
January & February
January was mainly friendlies to keep the squad ticking over with a league game on the last day, where a last gasp Kal Naismith strike secured the points against Dundee United.
February was a contrast to the disappointment of December. A thrilling 4-3 extra time cup win at Fir Park ( I was watching 1st team draw 0-0 at Parkhead), was followed by an excellent 2-0 victory away to Hearts, having played around an hour with 10 men.
As we entered the final stages of the season March looked like a good opportunity to push on, with the first two games against the bottom two sides. It started well with a 4-0 away to Hamilton. Only to turn in the season’s poorest performance the following week, losing 2-0 at Tannadice.
With leaders Hibs also dropping points around this time it set up an intriguing top of the table clash at Murray Park. After a poor first half the youngsters found themselves 0-3 after 50 minutes. A storming second half performance with goals from Naismith & Campbell saw them back in the match. When former Ranger Ally Park handled on the line in the final minute it looked like they could grab an unlikely point, only for Kal Naismith to blast his penalty high and wide.
The boys put that disappointment behind them two weeks later to book their place in the Youth Cup Final. An easy 6-2 win over Inverness CT, in a match where they could have score even more goals.
March also saw Darren Cole, Gordon Dick & Max Wright represent Scotland Under 17’s in the elite qualifying round of the European Championships. Unfortunately Scotland lost all three games to Georgia, Italy and Austria, Max Wright scoring Scotland’s only goal.
The month that would decide the ultimate destination of the prizes started in similar fashion to March. A good performance saw a comfortable 4-0 win over Falkirk, only to be followed with a performance almost as poor as the previous month’s Tannadice show, losing 0-2 away to Motherwell.
Celtic then put a dent in our league hopes when in a game of very few chances they held on for a goaless draw. Both sides finishing the game with ten men, the Celtic red card coming when their defender hauled back Archie Campbell when clean through and likely to score. The only other real chance came in the dying seconds when their keeper denied Campbell.
Rangers then went into the game with Aberdeen knowing a last minute goal for Hibs in the earlier kick off had clinched the title. A Max Wright strike gave Rangers a 1-0 victory in a game that lost any significance in the title race.
The month ended cruelly when Kurtis Byrne’s injury time goal denied them the chance of taking the Youth Cup Final to a penalty shoot out. His earlier goal having been cancelled out by a fine individual effort from Archie Campbell.
On a positive note the Under 17’s cruised past Queen’s Park to set up an Old Firm Glasgow Cup Final. Doubles from Chris Scott & Kyle McAusland and one from Max Wright secured a 5-0 win.
The first step on the international recognition ladder saw three Rangers players selected for Scotland at Under 15’s. George Scott, Lee Cochrane & Gregor Fotheringham taking part in two friendly games against Belgium.
The league season came to a disappointing end with a 2-0 defeat away to Inverness CT that saw the Under 19’s slip to third in the final placings.
A magnificent Kane Hemmings double for the Under 17’s ensured that the “youths” would end the season with something to show for their efforts. His volley for the second goal was the highlight in a 2-1 win over Celtic in the Glasgow Cup Final, in what was a much more comfortable win than the scoreline suggests.
The season was not not quite over for Danny Wilson, Ross Perry, Stephen Stirling, Jamie Ness & John Fleck as they were part of the Scotland Under 19 squad just pipped by England in the elite qualifying round. With both Stirling & Ness netting in the win over Slovakia and Perry doing likewise in the win over Bosnia.
Arturs Vailculis also was on international duty for the elite round for Latvia in their group with Romania, France and Norway. The Baltic side finishing bottom of their group.
My overall assessment of the season would be pretty positive for what was a young squad. On the evidence I saw Hibs were probably the best team and deserved their success. I’m slightly disappointed we slipped to third as two league wins and a friendly win of Hearts suggest we should have finished above them.
The squad can look back at where the title was lost. Perhaps it was the two defeats to champions Hibs, disappointing home draws with Inverness CT and St.Mirren, failure to beat what was a poor Celtic side in the two league meetings or the season’s two poorest performances in defeats at Motherwell and Dundee United.
Now we can look forward to next season and one of the unique features of the youth league is the natural squad turnover. Although with Rangers having a young squad this season there are only a handful now too old, and two of those missed most of the season through injury. Rangers will have much the same squad, but they could decide to limit the use of Danny Wilson and perhaps Jamie Ness at this level next season, like this season with John Fleck, who only made one league appearance for the youths.
Where as champions Hibs lose nine of their successful side and all the others clubs fall somewhere in between. So keep this bookmarked and get updated when the new season starts.
Rangers have released one of last season’s squad, goalkeeper Arturs Vailculis. I am sure all Rangers fans wish Arturs all the best in his future career.