RANGERS under-20s made it through to the semi-finals of the SFA Youth Cup this afternoon, and coach Graeme Murty was thrilled with the character they showed to come back from a goal down.
Despite a very bright opening period, Kevin O’Hara netted a rebound after the Bairns were awarded a penalty kick before Murty’s boys roared back with two superb Jamie Barjonas goals, a Zak Rudden penalty and single strikes from each of Billy Gilmour and another stunner from Jack Thomson completed a 5-1 rout.
Murty was especially pleased with how his players handled playing at Ibrox and said: “I was looking at a few of them and I thought there may have been a chance of that in the warm-up, but they seemed to embrace it, and seemed to really, really enjoy it. Obviously winning the game has helped to reinforce that, but I was really proud of the way in which they were brave enough to go and play our stuff.
“It’s not easy when people are going to press and put you under pressure, but I thought the way they handled the football overall was very, very good and very encouraging for the style we want to play.
“Against their own age group, it is really, really important we impose our own style, and I thought we did that from the get-go. We shifted the ball quickly, played through lines and split their units open at times, but we weren’t getting the breaks and we then got a knock-back with the penalty.
“The way they responded though and maintained their composure, I have to say, they did it a lot better than me at times so credit to them for that and they got the rewards they deserved.
“Some of their play was very, very encouraging and I thought their goals were exceptional, and it was hard to pick a favourite.
“I said to the players at half-time 2-1 was the least they deserved, and we put them under massive pressure at the start of the second half. We had three really good opportunities we didn’t take, and then you are starting to wonder – but the boys kept at it, kept doing the right things, and I thought our control of the game at times was exceptional, so I am really pleased for them.
“They have had a few knocks this year, playing against older players and finding it difficult to transform good performances into wins, so it is good for the group collectively to go and get this win against their own age group.”
The performance of the particularly young men in the side such as 15 year-old Billy Gilmour and 16 year-old Jack Thomson also delighted Murty who added: “That’s another 90 minutes for them under their belts, and you can’t really count how much that is going to mean for them going forward in their development.
“To play 90 minutes here at Ibrox in this level will stand Billy and Jack in particular in good stead, but we have people like Jordan Houston and Zak Rudden – let’s not forget they are really young as well.
“To go on and perform like that on that stage, and put in that type of performance is really encouraging, but we have to be mindful that this is one game, and the lads can’t get carried away.
“We will let them enjoy it, and then we will bring them back down to earth – gently – but we make sure we get them back to earth and we continue with their ongoing development.
“I said to them today, the reason we make them struggle and the reason we make it harsh is so when they come out at places like this, it’s just another test and they look forward to the test, and whatever the next round brings, I’m sure they’ll look forward to that as well.”