Kirkwood confident young Rangers can atone for last year's heartbreak

RANGERS under-19 players had to look on with envy last season as they played second fiddle to double winners Hibernian, and will be determined to stop Celtic celebrating the same league and cup success at their expense in the Scottish Youth final at Hampden this evening.

Among the Rangers players in last season's crop was Danny Wilson, and already a couple of this year's batch have forced their way into the fringes of Walter Smith's first-team squad, with Gregg Wylde making his full debut.

This is Rangers' fourth Youth Cup final in a row and coach Billy Kirkwood is delighted his young charges are not only competing for honours in their own age group, but positively developing their careers along the way.

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"The staff are delighted with the fact that we've got boys who have made the move to the first team," said Kirkwood. "But we are always looking for more and always looking for other lads to do well and learn how to win and play as a Rangers player."

After narrowly missing out to Hibs in last season's final, Kirkwood is looking for his young side to go one better tonight.

"It's been a very good test for the lads this season after having a couple of relatively easy ties in recent campaigns," Kirkwood told the club's official website. "The first round this year had us away against Aberdeen at Pittodrie and that is great because it gives the boys a chance to experience playing at a stadium that they normally only watch on TV. We played Hearts at Tynecastle in the quarter-final and that was a fantastic result to come through against another SPL side. Then the semi was away from home against St Mirren so the boys have done really well to get to the final.

"We've done well in a couple of recent Old Firm finals and hopefully we can do well again because we were unfortunate to lose the way we did last season.

"It was the last touch of the ball in extra time last season against Hibs just as we thought it was going to go to penalty kicks. I was obviously disappointed by the result but I was more disappointed with how we played that night so hopefully we get a better performance and the right result this time. It was a learning experience for them and it had been nip and tuck between us and Hibs all season and they just pipped us to the league near the end."

It was Rangers who last beat their Old Firm rivals at the beginning of March, but an eight-game winning run for Celtic, including a 1-0 revenge victory at Murray Park propelled Stevie Frail and Tommy McIntyre's side to the title and also to the verge of the Under-19 double.

Celtic were confirmed as champions on Friday when Rangers lost to Dundee United, and were presented with the league trophy at Lennoxtown on Saturday after celebrating their success in style with a 1-0 win over Aberdeen.

Celtic opened their Scottish Youth final campaign with comfortable wins over Threave Rovers and Brora Rangers, but found themselves involved in an epic battle with Dundee United in the quarter-finals, eventually edging out their hosts 5-4.

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Livingston proved stubborn opponents too in the semis, but Celtic booked their place in the Hampden final with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.

Now Celtic captain Matthew Hughes is hoping to complete the job against Rangers.

He too is hoping that his performances in the youth ranks might lead to an eventual first-team breakthrough. "When you look at Celtic, they always give younger players an opportunity," said the defender. "Aiden McGeady, Shaun Maloney and Stephen McManus were the last ones going through and they have shown that it is possible to go through the youth team and do that."

Entry to tonights's match is 5 for adults and 2 for children and concessions.