RANGERS under-20s’ attempts to defend the club’s Challenge Cup got off to the perfect start with an impressive victory over Stirling University at Forthbank this evening.
Four goals in a 22-minute first-half period saw the Light Blues cruising, and while they missed numerous chances to add to their commanding lead, this was a mightily impressive performance from the youngsters.
In unseasonably cool and horrendously wet conditions at Forthbank, Rangers immediately took control of proceedings before taking the lead after just six minutes through a Josh Jeffries thunderbolt.
Sprinting down the right wing with the ball went Liam Burt before he played it inside for Jeffries, lurking 30-yards out from goal with the Stirling Uni defence in front of him.
That barrier wasn’t to deter him though, and he drove a quite sensational effort into the top left-hand corner beyond the reach of goalkeeper Tim Hughes.
It was exactly the start Billy Kirkwood and David McCallum would have been looking for from their side as they showed no signs of any tiredness having only returned from their pre-season tour of South Africa on Monday afternoon.
And their dream start was to get even better on 18 minutes as Rangers scored another quite excellent goal.
Starting with a neat interchange in midfield between that man Jeffries and Jordan Thompson, the latter then played a stunning, defence splitting ball into the path of Ryan Hardie, who proceeded to do what Ryan Hardie does.
Taking a touch to ensure the ball ran just enough beyond him for the strike, he drilled the ball across Hughes and found the bottom corner to hand his side a nice cushion so early in the match.
That cushion was to turn into a rather large crash-mat soon after though, with Gers crashing in two more goals in the next.
Firstly, Jeffries hit another stunning goal to rival his first effort as he collected the ball on the edge of the area, turned and struck a sweet left-foot drive off the underside of the crossbar before it crossed the line.
Then, attempting to out-do his midfield partner, Thompson hit a thunderous strike along the turf that Hughes did well to push wide, but he could only find Zak Rudden and he squared the ball across the face of goal where Liam Burt was waiting to tap home from all-but a yard out.
It was sensational stuff from the young ‘Colts’ – and as half time approached, the really should have made it 5-0 as Hardie rounded Hughes only for Jack Nixon to recover and clear the ball to safety.
The second half saw the Light Blues continue to dominate the game, and their good play saw them creating opportunities in front of goal at regular intervals.
Zak Rudden may have done better on the volley from 15-yards out after being found by Burt, while Burt himself found only the gloves of Hughes with an effort after cutting into the area from the left wing.
Burt was enjoying an excellent game, and only a wonderful Hughes save prevented him bettering Jeffries’ two stunning strikes from the first half when he fired a sensational 35-yard drive towards goal from out on the left.
The biggest chance to date to make it 5-0 came on 77 minutes as substitute Andrew Dallas was fouled in the area, with referee Stewart Luke pointing to the spot with no hesitation. Up stepped Jeffries with the chance of a hat-trick, but he found only the terrace behind the goal with his effort high over the bar.
Further opportunities followed again for Rudden and for Dallas himself, but there was to be no further damage inflicted on Hughes’ goal. Rangers now host Stenhousemuir next week in round two, with a precise day and kick-off time to be confirmed in due course.
RANGERS: Robby McCrorie, Lyon, Gray, Barjonas, Ross McCrorie, Bradley, Burt (Ashmore, 77) Jeffries, Hardie (Dallas, 69), Thompson (Kelly, 60), Rudden.
SUBS: Wright, Wilson, White, Gibson.
STIRLING UNIVERSITY: Hughes, Cuff, Kellock, Ashe, Nixon, Leigh, Faulds, Gillen, Geddes, McAfferty, Bonar.
SUBS: McEwan, Hunter, McAnespie, Touhy, Moyes, Fitzpatrick, Quinn.
REFEREE: Stewart Luke