LAST week saw a Rangers Academy side travel to England’s south coast to take on a Southampton Academy team – and coach Billy Kirkwood was delighted with how it went.
The Saints’ are renowned for having produced a number of top-class players over the years such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the young Gers more than matched them at their world-class Staplewood training complex.
The game was played as the Rangers Academy strive to give the youngsters at Auchenhowie as many different and difficult challenges as possible, and speaking to this week’s Official Rangers Podcast, coach Kirkwood branded the trip a massive success, with the Light Blues coming back north with a 0-0 draw.
He explained: “The whole day was fantastic and it was an adventure. The boys were here early in the morning and were a bit out of their comfort zone preparing for a game at an elite academy – one of the top academies in England, and it was good they were disrupted in terms of their preparation.
“They were here for 6am to travel to the airport, and then they were flying to a game rather than sitting on a bus to go to the likes of Aberdeen, Inverness or Ross County. So they flew down, were picked up on the bus at the other end, and their eating habits were disrupted too so we had to get around that.
“So we went on to Southampton and it was about 30-40 minutes on the bus, and it was a lovely day, the pitches were great, the facilities were great and the people were fantastic. They really welcomed us with open arms and I think the lads even got a lift from all of that with it being a different preparation to what we are used to for a match.
“We had a group of boys who were a mixture of under-16s, 17s and a few 18s, and they all really enjoyed their day. I said to them at half time when they came in that they all really looked like they were enjoying it and it was something different with them maybe not having come up against these sorts of players before.
“That’s the kind of education we want for this Academy, and yes, he reality is we had to come back and play Partick Thistle at the weekend which was a really tough game in a difficult environment, but the more we test them in terms of that kind of football and also the elite systems other clubs play, then I think we will be giving our lads a better education to become a first-team player here at Rangers.
“I think overall it was a very positive day out for the players, but I’ve also got to say for the staff as well. It’s pleasing that we were going there not knowing what we were going to come up against and testing yourself with all the different aspects – eating properly, rehydrating properly and preparing properly for the game, and actually playing exceptionally well within the game.
“It gave everyone a good lift as all the good work gets hidden behind the scenes with the physios and sports scientists etc., and our lads stood up to the task very, very well.”
Kirkwood believed his young Gers more than matched their Premier League opponents, and he revealed the Saints’ staff were full of praise for ‘Gers style of play.
“I think on the football pitch we certainly did. We played very well, and played the open, expansive game the Gaffer wants us to play – the 4-3-3. Southampton played their normal football which was building from the back and if it wasn’t on, they played the old-fashioned English way where they quartered the pitch and played the ball long.
“It was a great education for our lads against a different style, and the Southampton staff were really delighted that we had come down and played the way we did as they don’t always get that test as well.
“So it was pleasing in every aspect, both for the players and for the backroom staff as well.”