Cup Final Heartache For Young Jambos
Before the senior teams battle it out for the Scottish Cup, Hearts and Rangers met at Hampden Park in the final of the Scottish Youth Cup. Hearts were in the final for the first time since 2016 when they finished runners-up to Motherwell, while Rangers were the reigning holders of the competition. The Light Blues saw off Glasgow rivals Celtic to win the 2019 edition, which was the last time the final was staged pre-pandemic.
15-year-old Ewan Simpson started for Hearts with speculation swirling about a transfer to Aston Villa, while Makenzie Kirk started up front looking to continue a scoring spree which has seen him net in every round of the cup so far. Rangers walked out onto Hampden’s hallowed turf as the competition’s top scorers with 25 goals. Furthermore, they have beaten Hearts twice in league action this season and were confident of retaining the trophy.
Hearts almost fell behind a matter of minutes in as a poor back pass from Callum Flatman allowed Robbie Ure a free shot on goal. Liam McFarlane did excellently to make himself big and pull off an impressive save. The Hearts stopper has been tipped to have a bright future and did those claims no harm by saving another close-range effort, before pulling out an outrageous full-stretch stop to deny Rory Wilson from a free-kick.
Steven Naismith was getting visibly frustrated at his side’s performance in the first 20 minutes, jumping up and down on the spot before booting a water bottle into the pitchside adverts. Hearts would create their first chance not long after as a cross from Simpson was headed goalwards by Callum Sandilands however it was an easy save for McConnell in the Rangers net.
Rangers took the lead in 34 minutes through Darren McInally. A corner from the right was whipped in and after a poor clearance from Hearts the ball fell kindly for the Rangers number 7. McInally controlled the ball before lashing home a half volley to put the Wee Gers in the driving seat.
Wilson would double the lead in 44 minutes as he laced a low effort beyond McFarlane, who was disappointed to see the ball squirm under him and trickle over the line.
The second half began as Hearts had 45 minutes to stage a seemingly impossible comeback. Charlie Lindsay curled an effort inches wide of the post on 56 minutes before Rocco Friel picked up a booking for scything down Kevin Ciubotaru who was closing in on goal.
Tyler Pasnik was then stretchered off after landing awkwardly on his ankle after an attempted shot. Good running from James Graham then saw the ball laid off to Robbie Ure who fired over.
Hearts would get themselves back in the game on 80 minutes as Murray Thomas lashed home from just inside the box. The substitute wrestled himself clear of his man and finished superbly despite excessive pressure from the Rangers defence.
Spurred on by their goal, the Wee Jambos piled on the pressure as they went in search of an equaliser. Ewan Simpson’s crossfield free-kick found the head of Bobby McLuckie who headed over the bar. James Wilson then attempted to backheel home an equaliser but McConnel managed to hold the effort.
Full time arrived at the National Stadium and Rangers were the Youth Cup winners once more. The Hearts players sank to the turf, gutted and exhausted. After a poor first half they had come out for the second 45 and given everything they had, but unfortunately for the Wee Jambos it was a step too far.
Hearts manager Steven Naismith called on his players to take heart from their cup run: “They need to take heart. I say to young players all the time, as much as this is a team sport you need to be ruthless and you need to be performing week in, week out, whether that’s in training or games, because if you’re not then somebody will take your place.”
“These experiences are hard to come by. Some players have gone through their career and never played at the National Stadium or in a cup final like this.”