RANGERS coach David McCallum reckons the Under-18s showed real character in their 3-1 victory over Aberdeen in the SFA Youth Cup.
Goals from Ciaran Dickson, Josh McPake and Nathan Young-Coombes ensured Rangers’ place in the Hampden final where they will face Queen’s Park or Celtic for a chance at cup glory.
But it didn’t start off quite the way they wanted as after only five minutes, the hosts broke the deadlock at the Balmoral Stadium, home of Cove Rangers.
Aberdeen grabbed the first goal through Connor Barron but Dickson’s strike restored parity – and McCallum couldn’t hide his delight at how they continued the recovery from there to comfortably win the tie.
“Of course I think we’ve got to be pleased,” McCallum said. “I think we had a difficult start with Aberdeen going ahead so early in the game.
“I think that shows the character of the group that they could deal with that. I think from there we obviously get the equaliser, but I always felt we had that threat in the first half, we had that pace going in behind.
“In fairness to Aberdeen they matched it for the most part of the first half but then Josh goes and does what he does to make it 2-1 and certainly settled us down for half-time that’s for sure. It was no surprise [to go a goal down]. Aberdeen are a good team so there’s always wee spells in the game where they might have a hold of the ball and deal with the ball better.
“But I think that’s how you deal with the character side of things. You make sure you deal with not having the ball better than what we did, but then obviously when we got the ball back we showed quality.
“I think we’ve got guys in the front area that have a threat and then we’re fortunate we can bring off the bench Nathan Young-Coombes, who goes and finishes the game off with a delightful chip over the ‘keeper.
“I think the forward line were good in possession. We’re still working with them to try and make sure that when we don’t have the ball the game’s tighter for us in terms of not too many big gaps. So in possession we always carry a goal threat so we’re good when we get ourselves in those positions.”
Some of the matchday squad for the 3-1 win over Aberdeen were playing last Friday in the Al Kass International Cup in Qatar, where Rangers lifted the trophy following a penalty shootout win over AS Roma.
To win such a prestigious competition has naturally left the squad on cloud nine but McCallum was pleased they didn’t get complacent and were able to come home and get past Aberdeen in a tricky looking last-four cup clash.
He said: “There’s always a danger when you come back from Qatar when the boys are so high. And it was a high, they’ve won against some really good teams out there and came out in victors in that one. So coming back here is always difficult because you’re coming off a situation where you’re high then you’ve got to come back a level to make sure.
“Aberdeen will come against us here knowing we’ve had a good experience in Qatar and they’ll want to bring us back down again and rightly so. So I think that in itself was positive from our side.
“It was a great win in the Qatar tournament and to get to the Scottish Cup final is terrific as well. But our biggest challenge is always going to be getting players to the first-team, so it’s the different challenges we can present them.
“Playing against the foreign teams and coming back and playing here against Aberdeen in a Scottish Cup semi-final, and obviously compete in the league.
“These are the bits that help to produce and develop players to a level that we can get them to. So we’ve had some players on the pitch today who have had first-team exposure, if not in the games certainly in training, and they’re showing up well. The league programme, the cup games and Qatar tournaments are just part of the journey.
“Whoever we get in the final will be difficult. Queen’s Park always make life difficult for us and for Celtic at different points. We’ve got the opportunity to go and play there and the boys will look forward to it.”