IN AN atmosphere that was more akin to a Queen’s Park league match than an Old Firm cup final, Aidan Nesbitt hit a hat-trick as Celtic lifted the Under-20 Youth Cup at Hampden.
Celtic U20 - 5
Wardrop (21), Nesbitt (27, 72, 74), Donnelly (33)
Rangers U20 - 2
Waters (22), Dykes (89)
The crowd of 1,483 was restricted to just friends and family due to incidents in recent years at Glasgow cup finals between the clubs. The fans denied access missed a fine match – unless they were willing to watch a live broadcast on YouTube – as the Celtic youngsters secured their fifth Cup success in six years.
Both sides had plenty of players with experience at either their own first-team level or at a loan club this season in their starting line-ups, with Rangers also opting to give on-loan Newcastle United midfielder Kevin Mbabu an outing.
Ibrox youngster Darren Ramsay almost got the game off to a flying start with a drive from 30 yards out after just seven minutes but the ball fizzed just over the bar, and it was Celtic who opened the scoring on 21 minutes.
A Kieran Tierney corner was headed goalward by Connor McManus and Sam Wardrop forced the ball over the line.
Less than a minute later Rangers were level when Ross McCrorie floated in a cross from the left and the unfortunate Calum Waters headed past his own goalkeeper, Jordan Hart.
Celtic restored their advantage five minutes later when Nesbitt cut in from the right and, after leaving a couple of defenders trailing, drilled a fierce shot into the corner.
It was 3-1 before half-time when Paul McMullan crossed from the right and Luke Donnelly took a delightful touch to bring the ball under control before turning and stabbing home.
Mbabu and McCrorie were replaced at the break, however Celtic were soon back on top and eight minutes into the half Jamie Lindsay was an inch short of connecting with Donnelly’s cross.
McMullan set up a further Celtic goal on 72 minutes when Nesbitt fired high past Liam Kelly.
Nesbitt completed his treble two minutes later from the penalty spot after Craig Halkett had barged Tierney over.
Rangers substitute Dylan Dykes gave the scoreline a better reflection when he turned home a Ryan Hardie cut-back in the last minute.