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Kilmarnock 1-4 Rangers (AET): Swifts leave it late to book place in SFA Youth Cup final

Jay Mansfield (@leftmidfielder) reports from Rugby Park

Ryan Hardie gets himself on the scoresheet to give Rangers the lead in the Scottish FA Youth Cup semi final against Kilmarnock
Jay Mansfield

Rangers’ Development Squad booked a place in the Scottish FA Youth Cup Final for 2017, but they left it late to overcome a resolute Kilmarnock.

Both teams came into the tie on the back of high-scoring quarter-final victories – Kilmarnock ousting their bitter rivals Ayr United 4-3 after extra time, and Rangers coming from behind to beat Falkirk 5-1. Rangers were the better team for the first 15 minutes, enjoying a lot of success from the Myles Beerman and Serge Atakayi combination down Kilmarnock’s right. Most of Rangers’ chances in the first half came through Atakayi out wide, as the midfield 3 of Aidan Wilson, Jamie Barjonas, and Billy Gilmour struggled to impose themselves on the game.

Zak Rudden had an off-day in the lone striker role as well, missing a couple of decent headed opportunities before an unmarked Innes Cameron headed Kilmarnock ahead in the 28th minute. Rangers were only behind for six minutes though. An inswinging free kick from the left caused consternation in the Kilmarnock defence, and captain Ross McCrorie nipped in to turn the ball home.

The first half ended with possession more or less even, and Rangers having the slightly better chances, a pattern that would continue in the second half. The Gers’ next clear-cut chance to take the lead came in the 53rd minute when Atayaki embarked on a driving run down the Kilmarnock right, sashaying into the penalty area, and squaring the ball across the six yard box, but Barjonas just couldn’t get enough on the ball to convert.

In the 65th minute, Rangers withdrew Rudden and Barjonas, who had both been under par. Their replacements, Ryan Hardie and Josh Jeffries, and third substitute Jordan Gibson, would eventually prove themselves to be gamechangers. The number of clear-cut opportunities started to dwindle as the prospect of extra time drew closer, but Atayaki spooned a chance over the bar in the 72nd minute, while a fine Robby McCrorie double save and some desperate defending kept Rangers in the game with 3 minutes to go.

And so extra time was required to split the teams. Rangers had a couple of half-hearted half chances in the first period, but it wasn’t until the 115th that the deadlock was broken, when Hardie beat the Kilmarnock offside trap, collected a pass on his chest, and turned to fire past Devlin Mackay. Within a matter of seconds, it was 3-1, Gibson stealing into the box to clip past the keeper. Kilmarnock had lost the place by now, and in the dying minutes of the game Josh Jeffries added a fourth with a simple left foot shot.

4-1 perhaps doesn’t fully reflect how close the two teams were for the majority of the game, but it does indicate that Rangers had more squad depth than their opponents.

Kilmarnock: Mackay, Queen, Lidington, Wilson, Clark, Hawkshaw, Whittaker, Kiltie, Cameron, Frizzell, McLean

Subs: Morrison, Lyle, Dempsie, Graham, Paterson, McDonald, McLevy

Goals: Cameron 28’

Rangers: Robby McCrorie, Houston, Beerman, Ashmore, Ross McCrorie, Wilson, Burt, Barjonas, Rudden, Gilmour, Atayaki

Subs: Wright, Bradley, Jeffries, Gibson, Abaradan, Dallas, Hardie

Goals: Ross McCrorie 34’, Hardie 115’, Gibson 116’, Jeffries 119’