RANGERS’ Challenge Cup journey came to an end as they were defeated by League One Stenhousemuir in round two.
The youngsters couldn’t fight back after going one-nil down inside 10 minutes when Colin McMenamin opened the scoring with a header. Alan Cook added two more either side of the break before Ryan Hardie pegged one back on the hour mark.
Despite it being an Under 20 side on paper it was a very young team who turned out for Rangers with only Jordan Thompson and Ryan Hardie officially within that bracket. The Gers were ultimately out battled by a more physical Warriors side.
Rangers had started brightly, enjoying the majority of possession and controlling the game but by the seventh minute they were a goal down. Stenhousemuir sent an early aerial threat when they were awarded a free kick, it was delivered deeply into the box and Jamie McCormack headed onto the roof of the net.
A minute later McCrorie was picking a ball out of the same net. Cook fired an angular cross onto the head of McMenamin and the striker rose high to nod home.
Rangers were under the cosh and Stenhousemuir sensed they could take advantage after opening the scoring. Mark Gilhaney tried a low drilled shot on 11 minutes but McCrorie was quick to get down and save. Then Stephen Stirling linked up with the goalscorer to collect a short ball centrally but he dragged his shot just wide.
With 21 minutes gone Rangers threatened properly for the first time. Zak Rudden did well to win the ball back out on the right and skip inside. He composed himself and tried to curl a shot into the bottom corner, Colin McCabe had to be alive to save down to his left.
Hardie turned on his pace with half an hour gone to create a great chance. He latched onto a superb Jeffries ball in the left channel to run at the keeper. The angle was tough though and the striker couldn’t manoeuvre around McCabe to get his shot away. The loose ball fell to Rudden but he could only fire over as the young Gers still went looking for their equaliser.
Jordan Thompson tried his luck with 36 minutes gone, picking the ball up in midfield to drive forward. The Northern Irishman unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box and McCabe was forced to scramble to save.
But the Warriors broke from that attack and Rangers conceded a cheap free-kick in a very promising position. Stirling laid off the set piece cutely for Cook and provider turned scorer as he fired a drilled effort into the Light Blues net.
Rangers made two changes at the break and showed more impetuous in attack as Stenhousemuir came in with some industrious challenges. But as much as the youngsters tried they couldn’t stop a rocket, and second of the night, from Cook. His shot cannoned off the underside of the woodwork and unluckily bounced off McCrorie’s shoulder and over the line with 58 minutes played.
The 20s weren’t going to take it lying down though and when Ross McCrorie rose to meet a ball in the six yard box Hardie lapped it up. The striker flashed a ball across the face of goal and the defender was still there waiting. McCrorie couldn’t keep his close range shot on target though and it bounced wide.
The Gers kept coming and Hardie provided them with a lifeline on the hour mark. Jeffries did well to free the ball from a goalmouth scramble and the current St Mirren man was waiting to supply the finishing touches, pouncing to tap it over the line.
Liam Burt nearly made it two for U20s four minutes later. The 17-year-old used his first touch to skip over the outstretched leg of the defender and then tee his shot up. It was powerful and from distance but he pulled it just wide.
Hardie leapt at the death and should have had another with two minutes left to play. Thompson supplied a wonderful weighted pass onto the forward’s head, he stepped off his marker but headed straight at McCabe.
RANGERS U20: Robby McCrorie, Lyon, Gray (Wilson 45’), Barjonas (Dallas 45’), Ross McCrorie (C), Bradley, Burt (Gibson 73’), Jeffries, Hardie, Thompson, Rudden
Subs not used: Wright, Jamieson, Ashmore, Kelly
Goals: Hardie 60’
Yellows: Lyon 80’
STENHOUSEMUIR: McCabe, McCormack, Hamilton, Meechan, Kerr, Berry, Miller, Stirling (Sinclair 52’), McMenamin (Smith 73’), Gilhaney, Cook (McCrorie 86’)
Subs not used: Howarth, Nash, Runciman, McMaster.
Goals: McMenamin 7’, Cook 37’ 58’
Yellows: Miller 56’, Sinclair 57’