IT has been a busy and challenging few weeks for Rangers’ reserve side, facing two sides of a completely different style, while they are now warming up for a glamour match tomorrow.
After facing Larne’s first-team in Northern Ireland last week where they were beaten 2-1, the youngsters moved on to face a Falkirk and Hearts hybrid outfit on Sunday in a benefit match for David Hagen, who played for all three clubs involved and is now tragically suffering from motor neuron disease.
After winning that match 4-0, the reserves are now mirroring the first-team both in opponent and preparations as they get set to face Spartak Moscow’s under-19s tomorrow.
Coach Graeme Murty has watched on with interest as to how his side have handled the variety of challenges thrown at them, beginning with that clash over the water in Larne.
“It was very interesting for a number of reasons,” began Murty. “We had the guys fly out on the day, they went to a hotel in the afternoon for a rest, and then went to the game, so that was new for them and some of them admitted they struggled with that part of it.
“They struggled to managed firstly the psychological part in terms of being up for the game at the wrong time and then they struggled to manage their rest and get themselves to sleep, and the struggled with their energy levels, which was really interesting for them.
“So that is another reason to do that first and foremost. Secondly, it was a men’s team we faced and they were very well-organised and dealt with our threat as they were very-well shaped up.
“They gave us a different number of challenges tactically and physically. And then, it was in front of a crowd, and I think that is one of the main areas where we have been deficient in Scotland in preparing our young players to go and play.
“Lets not forget, we need to prepare players who are going to play in front of 50,00 people who are very, very demanding, have very high standards and expect a certain level, and our players freely admitted that was a challenge for them.
“The more we can get to do that, by hook or by crook, will be better for their development and I think they will only benefit from that in the long run.”
One of the highlights from the Larne game was getting game-time to a number of the younger members of the squad against experienced, adult professionals.
Murty continued: “You have people like Dapo Mebude, Josh McPake and Murray Miller – the thing that we have, I think, done quite well is we have blooded the young ones.
“It showed in the David Hagen game, when Josh McPake came in, Murray Miller was there, Nathan Patterson was there, Harris O’Connor was there – we are getting these players experiencing A – what it is like training with a group who are at a faster tempo or are more physical, and then they get to go and experience where they are not the big fish. They are not the best player, they are not the strongest and they are not the fastest.
“It gives them good challenges, just as the Reserves are experiencing when they play against a first-team and they play against men’s teams, they are having to find different solutions.
“It is great for their problem solving part, as lets not forget, when it comes to a big, big game, they are not going to be able to turn round and look at me or one of the coaches on the side and get help. They have to be flexible enough and adaptable enough to find their own solutions, and whilst we understand they are going to struggle at times, we designed it that way so they can be more flexible, adaptable and in the long-term, they will be better for it.”
On then to Sunday’s match at the Falkirk Stadium, where a Josh McPake double and single strikes from Andy Dallas and Lewis Mayo completed a 4-0 win.
The circumstances of the game were different for the young team, with Murty adding: “We were honoured to be asked and the guys were very aware of the respect they were due to show, and I thought we managed that very well. It’s not easy for young players to go and do that.
“It brings home how lucky we are and they are to be fully fit and healthy and we just send all of our love and support out, as we did on the day as it was a challenging situation for our players to cope with, but they did very well.
“[On the game] I was quite harsh with the guys at half-time. I thought we were quite slack at times although we played some good stuff. It was difficult as they were a cobbled-together team and playing as a group of players who hadn’t necessarily played with each other.
“I thought we were slack at times and although it wasn’t a full-bore game as such, we had to treat it like that as it was an opportunity to practice in front of a crowd and to do what we did.
“I thought some players acquitted themselves very, very well, particularly some of the young players. I thought Harris O’Connor was outstanding and he played two games in three games, two 90 minutes, which is a big ask for a young man and he did very well.
“Josh McPake then came off the bench and scored two and had a massive impact on the game. But I thought all of our younger players did particularly well and they all acquitted themselves well and stood up to the challenge well, and that, for me, was a major, major bonus.”
Onwards then to tomorrow, with Gers facing Spartak Moscow’s under-19 side at Forthbank (home of Stirling Albion) at 2.30pm.
It’s a fantastic test for the young Gers, with Murty adding: “We are looking at them so the guys can get prepped as a first-team would. I have to say, Spartak have been brilliant – as soon as we came up with the idea of going and playing home and away, they were all over it.
“They were desperate to be involved, even to the extent of asking if we wanted foreign referees or if we were happy with Russian referees. They were right into it which was good for us and this is an opportunity for us to build some relationships. They are going to come to the [first-team] game as well and we are going to sit and watch the game together which is great for us and we are going to eat together after our game.
“And while we will be competing as hard as we possibly can, there is also that bit of respect between big, big clubs, and the more we can do that and the more we can foster relationships, the more we opportunity we will get to see how these guys work and take ideas from them, so we are really looking forward to that.
“It is another opportunity for our players to go and experience different cultures. They have a fantastic opportunity to go to Moscow which is brilliant and not everyone gets. This is where football is brilliant – our guys are going to get an opportunity also to go to Vienna and these are opportunities they wouldn’t get if we weren’t proactive and going and organising stuff for them.
“I think they are very privileged, but the guys understand that and want to go and put on a good show.”