RANGERS are through to the Scottish FA Youth Cup semi-finals following a hard-fought win over Cove Rangers at Ibrox tonight.
The non-league outfit gave a great account of themselves, making it difficult for the home side, but in the end, the gulf in quality told with goals from Josh McPake, James Maxwell and Joao Balde making the difference in the second half.
Against their Aberdeenshire opponents, Rangers were always likely to seek the initiative in the match, and they came close to opening the scoring after just two minutes.
A super through ball from Josh McPake picked out the run of Harris O’Connor from full-back down the right wing. He cut the ball back for Chris McKee just beyond the 18-yard line, but goalkeeper Balint Demus got a touch to his effort to turn it wide of the post.
Cove, however, proved they were not here to simply make up the numbers, with Cameron Carnie hitting a free-kick from inside the ‘D’ just wide of the target.
Gers soon found their way through the visitors’ defence again though, with McKee turning provider for Ciaran Dickson who was denied at close range by Demus and a cluster of yellow bodies on the line.
Josh McPake was always likely to be a creative spark for David McCallum’s men, and a mazy run into the box ended with a shot which Conan Kennedy managed to get a touch on to deflect over the bar.
The chances were starting to mount up, and Kyle McClelland flicked a Dickson corner over the bar just before the break, while Joao Balde fired over from inside the area when O’Connor again got himself away down the right.
McCallum introduced Matt Yates nine minutes into the second half, and he came close to an instant impact, firstly grazing the left post with an effort after getting in behind the Cove defence before testing Demus with an effort from just outside the area.
It was beginning to look like ‘one of those nights’ for Gers, but finally on 62 minutes, the breakthrough arrived.
A stunning ball from Dickson from midfield sliced the Cove defence apart, and racing onto it to meet it at the edge of the box was Josh McPake who maintained his composure to finish.
McPake almost made it two straight after with another one of those mazy runs into the box before finally being crowded out.
The second goal did arrive, however, with 10 minutes to go and it was a beauty!
Cutting in from the right came James Maxwell to the edge of the area, and having worked himself the space, he curled a super effort right into the bottom corner beyond Demus to settle the tie.
But it was to get better for the Light Blues in in injury time, with Joao Balde scoring perhaps the goal of the night.
Picking up the ball on the edge of the box, he took on a host of Cove players to weave a route to the edge of the six-yard box and then finish well beyond Demus to add some gloss to the scoreline and send Gers into the semi-final.
RANGERS: Kinnear; O’Connor, McClelland, Finlayson, Maxwell; Miller, Williamson, Dickson; McPake (King, 67), McKee (Yates, 54), Balde.
SUBS NOT USED: Budinauckas, Mack, Muir, Fraser.
COVE RANGERS: Demus, Kennedy, Thomas, Gomss, Kinghorn, Forsyth, Wilson, Youngson, Carnie, Tough, Critchard.
SUBS: Yunus, Collin, Morgan, Meddler, McGinigal, Mayewell, King.
REFEREE: Euan Birch