The Youth Cup clash between Rangers and Partick Thistle was a unique and interesting tie as it was the first time the Light Blues faced off against a Scottish Development team this season.
Rangers made the decision to pull out of the Development League in favour of glamour ties against some of England’s and Europe’s top academy teams. The only time Rangers have played a Scottish side this season was in a 2-1 defeat to Dumbarton in the IRN-BRU Challenge Cup.
Thistle sit seventh in the SPFL Development League and have had an average run of form in the league thus far. Five wins, five loses and one draw would suggest that Thistle’s place right in the middle of the table is spot on.
There was an element of the unknown for both teams in this game and it showed in the cagey opening encounters. The match had the sense of both teams trying to feel each other out. Thistle however nearly got off to the perfect start when Neil McLaughlin scored from a perfectly weighted Mark Lamont through ball. However, the assistant’s flag came to Rangers’ rescue. McLaughlin was playing right on the shoulder of the Rangers defence, hoping to use his speed against the imposing figures of Aiden Wilson and Lewis Mayo.
Jamie Barjonas would have been the most notable name that the Rangers fans inside Ibrox would be hoping to see. However, it at times looked like Andrew McCarthy and Callum Wilson were told to double mark Barjonas and it certainly worked and helped to lessen his influence on the game.
Cammy Palmer more than stepped up to the mark for the home side, and in truth ran the show from the midfield. Palmer seemed to be everywhere on the park and was a very difficult obstacle for the Thistle attack to break down. Numerous times Palmer would break up play and his own slick passing would start a Rangers attack.
The two teams had no lack of speed and it was a very fast paced match. Connor Higgins, Lee Duncanson, and McLaughlin were clearly the main threat for Thistle and indeed their pace in turning defence into attack did give the Rangers defence one or two things to think about.
For the home side, wingers Andrew Dallas and Serge Atakayi are certainly no slouches in the pace department. Dallas had a fantastic game throughout but Atakayi was kept quiet for the most part by Jason Krones. Atakayi’s persistence would reap the rewards for Rangers later in the match.
It was Zak Rudden who opened the scoring just after the break. Rudden was a constant menace throughout the match. His pace and height made him a versatile weapon and was a player that the Thistle defence couldn’t take their eye off of for a second. Dallas then scored Rangers’ second and it looked like that would be that as a deflated Thistle faced an uphill battle.
Goals change games however. McLaughlin scored from the penalty spot and Thistle were back in the match. Moments later, McLaughlin found himself on the ball after it was knocked on from a corner and the striker made no mistake. Kieran Wright had precious little to do in goal but the two shots he did face both ended up in the back of the net.
Thistle were clearly buoyed from their dramatic comeback but when the game had settled down again it was Rangers who looked more likely to score the decisive goal. It took some fine goalkeeping from Jamie Stevenson and some poor finishing from Rangers to ensure the game went to extra time.
Extra time is often described as a battle of fitness and it certainly looked that way as an energetic Rangers continued to attack, while Thistle seemed to somewhat run out of steam. The ball fell at the feet of Atakayi who scored to put Rangers back in front, right on the stroke of half time.
Chances were few and far between for Thistle, but McLaughlin passed up on a golden opportunity to grab his hat-trick as he volleyed over from edge of the six-yard box. Substitute, Dapo Mebude would play in Rudden for his second goal of the game to double the lead. Mebude would then get a goal of his own after McCarthy was sent off for Thistle for a second bookable offence.
If truth be told, Rangers’ superiority shone through in the end. Graeme Murty and Billy Kirkwood will be hoping that their sides’ European adventures will give them the emphasis to go on and do one better than the runner up spot that Rangers claimed in last season’s Youth Cup.