Youth Cup Quarter Final Draw

The draw for the SFA Youth Cup Quarter Finals was made yesterday and Rangers have been handed a home tie against Dunfermline Athletic. The full draw is as follows:-

Rangers v Dunfermline Athletic
St. Johnstone v St. Mirren
Kilmarnock v Greenock Morton
Heart of Midlothian v Queen’s Park

As its been a couple of years since we reached this stage I thought I would have a wee look at the four ties. The Youth Cup has become a strange competition, it started as an Under 18 tournament and its inaugural year saw a Rangers side that included Ian Durrant, Robert Fleck and Scott Nisbet, (Derek Ferguson missed the final through injury), lose out to Celtic. Back then it was for players who may have just reached their eighteenth birthday and it would be rare for any to be near their club’s first team and most were unfamiliar faces to the fans.

The authorities have allowed it to graduate to an Under 20 tournament, so the players can be a full two years older and most clubs would expect some players of that age to be in and around the first team, or out on loan at lesser clubs to gain first team experience. Like any cup competition there are shocks but in the past a glance at the youth league table would be a decent form guide. With clubs able to field up to four overage players in the SPFL Under 20 League that picture is somewhat distorted these days.

Rangers v Dunfermline Athletic

Rangers reached this stage with comfortable wins over Dumbarton and Hibernian and I believe this is a talented if a young Rangers squad, with only Barrie McKay and Callum Gallagher from the team that played Hibernian too old for next year. Technically Rangers could also field Fraser Aird and Lewis McLeod but that is unlikely and it has to be noted that Hibernian also omitted three or four “first team” players from their lineup in the last round.

The Pars reached this stage with wins over Dundee United and Cowdenbeath. Led by former Ranger Stephen Wright as Head of Youth the backbone of their team is made up of two players I was surprised to see released from Rangers and two players on loan from Dundee United. Centre back Lewis Martin and midfielder Lewis Spence were previously at Rangers, while midfielder Ryan Ferguson and striker Jordan Moore are on loan from Dundee United, neither played against their parent club but both played in the tie against Cowdenbeath. Jordan Moore has already a fair bit of history against Rangers, scoring twice for Dundee United in a youth cup win at Ibrox two seasons ago, and receiving a red card is this season’s first team fixture. Striker Alan Smith has played a few first team games and one or to others have had a brief taste of top team action.

In the Under 20 game earlier this season Rangers took the points with the odd goal in NINE !!. Both sides fielded over age players in that game so taking that into consideration I would expect Rangers to progress with home advantage.

St. Johnstone v St. Mirren

The Perth Saints reached this stage with wins over Stirling Albion and Celtic while the Paisley Saints accounted for Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers. Having been at the Under 20 games against these sides, Rangers were fortunate to win in Paisley and fortunate to draw with St.Johnstone at Dumbarton, but again the over age players cloud the picture.

The Rangers connection in Perth comes in form of Head of Youth and former Rangers youth coach Alistair Stevenson and under 20’s coach Alex Clelland who of course is a former Rangers player. It’s a credit to the club that most of their Under 20 side have come through the system and striker Chris Kane has been prolific. They have added a couple of players from England, Dwayne Coultress (Aldershot) and Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson (Sheffield Wednesday) but possibly the most impressive capture is Dylan Easton who impressed at Ibrox last season while playing for Berwick Rangers.

The Paisley Saints had no fewer than four former Rangers in their lineup when the progressed past Raith Rovers, centre backs Mark Williams and Jack Baird, winger Lewis Morgan and striker Thomas Reilly. The Paisley version definitely have the edge in terms of first team experience and Thomas Reilly and Jon Scullion form a potent strike force. That makes it a difficult tie to call, but you have to be impressed with the Perth side’s win over holders Celtic in the last round and with home advantage I’ll go for them.

Kilmarnock v Greenock Morton

Killie had to overcome the youth sides from Aberdeen and Motherwell to reach this stage, and in both ties they recorded impressive and comfortable wins. They inflicted a heavy defeat on Rangers (5-1) in the same competition last season, although most of that team is now too old, including Rory McKenzie who netted four of the goals.

Another club with a few former Rangers, with Greg Taylor, Mark O’Hara and Greg Kiltie all featuring in last round’s tie against Motherwell and they could also call on first team winger Chris Johnston who is eligible. Rangers won the recent Under 20 league encounter 2-0, but again both sides featured over age players.

Morton progressed at the expense of Fraserburgh and Ayr United, I don’t know too much about the youngsters from Greenock as they are have not entered in any of the two youth leagues. They are sitting top of the Reserve Legaue, but I’m not sure how much exposure their youth players have had in that league. Looking at their lineup from the last round it included Glen Eadie who was released by Celtic in the summer and Dylan Stevenson who had a brief spell at Rangers having previously been at Celtic. All things considered I think Kilmarnock will be too strong and should progress.

Heart of Midlothian v Queen’s Park

I mentioned previously that Rangers have a young side, with Hearts having so many youngsters in the first team squad their squad for their Under 20 games has averaged about a year younger than even Rangers and that has reflected on results as they sit near the bottom of the table. Hearts had an early start to the youth cup with a routine win over Spartans followed by 4-2 success against Hamilton Accies and then a bit of shooting practice as they hit double figures against Formartine United.

With no fewer than eight of the squad that faced Dundee United eligible to play in the youth cup the Hearts lineup could be anybody’s guess. Their lineups in recent Under 20 games have included a few former Rangers players, full-backs Liam Smith and Elliot Ford, Robbie Buchanan who has been playing wide right and striker Gary Oliver who has recently broke into the first team and made the Scotland 19’s squad.

Queen’s Park really do punch above their weight at youth level, when you consider that Lawrence Shankland, Aiden Connolly and Andy Robertson who all moved to top league clubs in the summer and could be playing in this tie if they were still at Queens it proves the point. Its been a series of narrow wins that have taken The Spiders to this stage, beginning with 1-0 over Forfar Athletic, a penalty shoot-out against Inverness CT and the odd goal in five win over Queen of the South.

Although their squad will be full of names I’m not familiar with, they will be well organised and will keep attempting to play their passing game. They do have the option of playing former Rangers player Blair Spittal, not eighteen for another week or so Blair has scored ten goals in a struggling Queen’s Park first team. I do think they will give a decent account of themselves but would expect Hearts to progress what ever lineup they field.

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