A CRUEL 89th minute winner meant the Rangers youngsters left Forthbank with no points after dominating the second period against St Johnstone.
The visitors had gone ahead on 36 minutes before a good finish from Serge Atakayi brought the Gers level.
Josh Jeffries hit the post late in the second-half after Graeme Murty’s side had peppered the Saints goal but it was a smash and grab for Joseph Johnson to grab the match decider and tap the ball beyond Kieran Wright from close range.
Despite St Johnstone opening the game with more attacking impetuous it was Rangers who nearly made the early impact in the ninth minute.
They had found it hard to press forward until Andrew Dallas span away from centre-half Cameron Lumsden after a good turn of pace to see him break free. The attacker mustered up a shot but it was a weak effort and Ben Mackenzie easily collected.
That was just the first bite of the cherry for Dallas though as he recovered within the minute to try again. He lashed a powerful effort from the edge of the box and it had looked like the opener until St Johnstone headed his strike off the line.
St Johnstone went close on 21 minutes when Greg Hurst sized up a shot from the left and placed it on target, forcing Kieran Wright into a quick save. The keeper could only paw it away though and the ball fell to Paul Simpson lurking 15 yards out but he couldn’t keep his composure and blazed over.
Dallas was creating most chances for the young Gers and tried again to make the difference just after the half hour mark. He spotted the keeper a few yards off his line and tried one from distance and would have beaten Mackenzie if his shot had been a few inches shorter. In the end the ball nestled on the roof of the net.
With 36 minutes gone St Johnstone had the opener in fine style. Max Ashmore did well with a clearing header but it fell into the path of Saints captain Connor McClaren. He sized it up and curled the ball into the postage stamp corner leaving Wright with very little chance of clawing it away.
The Light Blues youngsters were only behind for six minutes before Atakayi had grabbed one back. Josh Jeffries did superbly to lay the ball off to the forward as he ran through on goal. The keeper tightened the angle for the youngster and he elected to spin the ball over Mackenzie and into the back of the net.
Rangers’ first chance of the second period came from the unlikely source of centre-half Aidan Wilson. Jamie Barjonas had whipped a good ball onto his head from the right and the defender was lurking just off the far post to nod at Mackenzie.
With half an hour left to play Ashmore threaded in Rudden as he sprang into the box one-on-one with the keeper. Rudden attempted to side foot it into the corner of Mackenzie’s goal but the stopper had to have strong wrists to turn the Gers shot around the post and out for a corner.
Eight minutes later Barjonas positioned himself well for Jeffries to pick him out with a cross from the right. The midfielder was planted to the spot just yards off the goal line and nodded towards the keeper who made an easy save.
With 16 minutes left to go Rangers built from the back with such creativity that it warranted a goal. Atakayi was involved too but it was Jeffries who laid off to Rudden down the right and he attempted to place the ball into the bottom corner but it was inches wide of the upright.
Jeffries then went closer on 80 minutes when he weighed one up from the edge of the area only to be denied by the woodwork. It was a precise strike which had the keeper beaten but it bounced off the upright and across the face of goal in agonising fashion.
The youngsters had controlled the second period so it seemed somewhat cruel when substitute Joseph Johnson popped up in the 89th minute to tap the ball beyond Wright. Amin Bouzaig slipped out on the right and St Johnstone were able to cut the ball back into the danger area. Johnson was there to fire home and end the Gers hopes of a win.
RANGERS: Wright, Houston (White, 83’), Bates, Wilson, Beerman, Barjonas (Adamson 83’), Ashmore, Jeffries, Atakayi, Rudden, Dallas (Bouzaig 65’)
Subs not used: Kinnear, Gibson, Mayo.
Goals: Atakayi 42’
ST JOHNSTONE: Mackenzie, Lumsden, Thomson, McCann, Scobbie, Page, McClaren, Jardine, Hurst, Docherty, Simpson
Subs: Sinclair, Kerr, Polsen, Johnson, Quigley, O’Reilly.
Goals: McClaren 36’, Johnson 89’