RANGERS are into the fourth round of the SFA Youth Cup as they defeated Partick Thistle 5-2 at Ibrox after extra-time.
After a frustrating first half ended goalless, goals from Zak Rudden and Andy Dallas had the Development side in a comfortable position before a quickfire double from Neil McLaughlin put the Jags back on level terms and send the game into extra-time.
But the young Gers came fighting back with Serge Atakayi, Rudden and Dapo Mebude finished off 120 minutes of a lively cup tie.
Rangers lined up with Kieran Wright between the sticks, Aidan Wilson captaining the side, Jamie Barjonas in the midfield with Rudden spearheading the attack once more.
Billy Kirkwood was in charge again as Graeme Murty continues his time as caretaker boss for the first team – and Kirkwood was assisted by former Rangers star Peter Lovenkrands on the sidelines as he was for the match against Liverpool. Murty watched from the stand in the first half but joined his colleagues in the dugout for the second half and the rest of the cup tie.
Thistle’s McLaughlin had the first chance for the visitors and indeed the first real opportunity in the game. After seven minutes on the clock he found the ball with space inside the Rangers box but Wright was down to the shot well and collected with relative ease.
A slightly bizarre opening fell Serge Atakayi’s way after 21 minutes. Barjonas made a great challenge for the ball around 40 yards out from goal and the resulting bounce fell just a few yards ahead of Atakayi, who ran onto it and attempted a curling effort at goal but his shot was straight into the arms of Thistle stopper Jamie Stevenson.
The first half ended with little to report, with both sides having forays forward but creating little. In midfield, Barjonas and Palmer were in a physical battle with their Thistle counterparts and at the halfway stage it was an even contest, just like the scoreline.
Rangers came out for the second half with far more purpose and energy in the side and it wasn’t long before they found the opener. A shaky Thistle defence failed to clear the ball properly on the wet Ibrox turf and Cammy Palmer took advantage by playing a first-time through ball to Rudden. The young striker nicked the ball past the oncoming Stevenson to find the back of the net and break the deadlock.
Chances were few and far between but Rangers remained on top and extended their lead over their Glasgow rivals after 65 minute. A short corner on the far side was worked to the edge of the penalty area, where Rudden collected it and threaded a ball through to Andy Dallas, who finished well from around eight yards despite the calls for offside from the Jags.
Rudden to Dallas was nearly the combination for an immediate third Rangers goal just two minutes later, as the big No.9 showed great composure to ease the ball forward through the centre to Dallas who couldn’t add to his tally with Thistle goalkeeper Stevenson successful in the one-on-one.
Thistle were given a route back into the cup tie when referee awarded them a penalty on 73 minutes, with forward McLaughlin stepping up and sending Gers’ stopper Wright the wrong way to make it 2-1.
And three minutes later Thistle’s comeback was complete as they got on level terms through McLaughlin once more. A corner was played in from the right and the ball found the striker loitering at the back post and he made no mistake with a low and decisive finish into the net for 2-2.
With just two minutes to go of normal time, winger Atakayi came so very close to winning it for his side as his powerful drive from the edge of the box took a deflection off a Thistle defender and forced Stevenson to backtrack and produce a fine finger tip save to deny the Gers.
Into extra-time and within five minutes of the first-half the Gers had four attempts at goal through Palmer, Dallas and Atakayi as they looked to find a winner to decide the third-round meeting.
Barjonas was replaced by Grant Nelson as the first substitute of the evening in the 99th minute before Mebude came on for Dallas near the interval with the tie finely poised.
Rangers’ third goal came on the stroke of the first-half of extra-time as Atakayi kept his composure in a crowded Partick Thistle danger area to fire low into the corner to restore the Light Blues’ lead.
They weren’t done there though as they made sure of the victory with six minutes left of the added on period as Rudden grabbed a brace. An intelligent slide-rule pass by Atakayi gave Rudden a great opening to shoot on goal inside the box and the striker did just that, finishing for 4-2 with the aid of a slight nick from a Thistle defender.
Andrew McCarthy was given a second booking and red card shortly after as frustration got the better of the Jags youngster.
Substitute Mebude then added a gloss to the scoreline in the dying embers as he finished off a move inside the box that saw Rudden denied his hat-trick as the Gers ran out 5-2 victors.
RANGERS: Kieran Wright, Ross Lyon, Aidan Wilson, Lewis Mayo, Matthew Shiels, Jamie Barjonas, Stephen Kelly, Cameron Palmer, Andrew Dallas, Zak Rudden, Serge Atakayi.
SUBS: Aidan McAdams, Grant Nelson, Mati Zata, Izhaak Ahmed, Dapo Mebude, Kyle McClelland, Zac Butterworth.