RANGERS won the SFA Youth Cup for the first time in six years last night as their under-20s’ team beat their Hearts counterparts in a remarkable penalty shootout in which every one of the 22 players on the field had to take a kick.
Scorers: Rangers - Pascazio (51), Halkett (88); Hearts - Nicholson (31), King (63)
Aet Rangers won 8-7 on pens
Gordon Durie’s young side twice came from behind in the regulation to 90 minutes to force extra-time and eventually a shootout. In the end, it was Hearts goalkeeper Jordan Millar, who missed the decisive kick as his Rangers counterpart Liam Kelly, who had scored his own kick moments earlier, made his fourth save of the shootout.
Hearts, managed by new head coach Robbie Neilson and watched from the stand by owner Ann Budge and director of football Craig Levein, fielded comfortably the most experienced line-up of the two sides, with the inclusion of Callum Paterson, Sam Nicholson, Dale Carrick and Billy King helping ensure they started with a group possessing more than 200 first-team appearances between them.
The Rangers team, by contrast, could boast only a handful of top-team appearances between the likes of Callum Gallagher and Charlie Telfer.
While Hearts enjoyed the bulk of the early pressure, Rangers were always a threat on the counter-attack and in 14 minutes Darren Ramsay stung the palms of Hearts goalkeeper Millar with a shot from the edge of the box. The Ibrox youngsters threatened again in 29 minutes but Dylan Dykes’ glancing header from Ramsay’s corner was clutched by Millar.
After a first half hour of few clear-cut opportunities, Hearts made the breakthrough in 31 minutes. Paterson’s cross from the right found Nicholson at the back post and after his initial header had been blocked by Kelly, the Hearts winger reacted quickly to drill home a low angled shot from five yards out .
Neilson’s youngsters thought they had doubled their lead five minutes into the second half when Carrick laid a Paterson pass off into the path of Gary Oliver, but the striker drove into the sidenetting from six yards out.
Rangers equalised in 57 minutes when Greg Pascazio seized on a loose ball 20 yards out and drove a powerful shot through a ruck of bodies and beyond Millar, who got a touch on the ball, but was unable to prevent it finding the roof of the net.
Hearts required just five minutes to restore their lead, however, when King was on hand eight yards out to smash the ball high into the net after a scuffed effort from Angus Beith sparked a bout of pinball in the Rangers box. Rangers were still well in the game, though, and substitute Jamie Burrows went close to an equaliser twice within a minute. His first opportunity came from slack Hearts defending which allowed him a free run at goal, but Millar got down to make a fine save. A minute later, the same player drove a low shot inches wide from the edge of the box.
King almost gave Hearts some extra breathing space when he waltzed into the danger area, but his thumping low strike from the edge of the box ran agonisingly wide.
Rangers forced extra time with two minutes left when Barry McKay’s long ball coaxed Millar from his goalmouth and Halkett rose just inside the box to glance a header over the advancing goalkeeper and into the net. Carrick hit the post with a stunning strike from the edge of the box with three minutes remaining for Hearts but, in the end, a remarkable match was to be settled from 12 yards with Kelly emerging as the hero for Rangers.