Billy Kirkwood’s Rangers retained their under 17 Glasgow Cup trophy with a spirited fight back against an impressive Celtic side at Firhill on Monday night. The match ended 3-2 to the light blues, with Celtic’s Paul McMullan opening and closing the scoring, sandwiched by counters from Ryan Hardie and a brace from Junior Ogen.
It was certainly a pulsating 90 minutes, in a match which swung from end to end on numerous occasions in front of over 6000 fans.
Having played out a 2-2 draw in the earlier group stage of the competition, the affair seemed evenly balanced prior to the match.
Rangers lined up with a breadth of experience, with both Danny Stoney and Tom Walsh having already made top team debuts, and many of the rest having appeared for the Reserves – including Ross Hardie who netted 6 against Airdrie Reserves just days prior.
With the teams raring to go, referee Steven Brown was left with no choice but to delay kick off as the Rangers support threw flares and smoke bombs onto the pitch, making visibility in the penalty box almost impossible.
The opening stages proved to be a tense battle, with neither team daring to commit to the attack and very few clear cut chances being created.
The first chance of the match fell to Rangers’ David Brownlie, as his header from a Tom Walsh cross was cleared off the line by Calum Waters.
Brownlie then turned villain as he was dispossessed in defence by Celtic forward Paul McMullan who was subsequently left with a free run at goal, and with the Rangers stopper left with no other option he brought down McMullan inside the box to concede a penalty, with the punishment only being a yellow when it seemed to warrant a straight red.
McMullan himself then stepped up to convert the penalty and fire the Hoops into an early lead.
This only seemed to spur on the Rangers side and they quickly set about getting themselves on level terms.
Almost a third of the way into the match, Ross Hardie coolly controlled Dylan Dykes’ long ball over the Celtic defence and evened the tie with a thumping finish at the near post.
And just minutes later, Rangers were at it again. Junior Ogen picked the ball up midway inside the Celtic half, and with no clear options he neatly dribbled through four of the opposition and applied a smart finish.
Celtic seemed almost shell-shocked by a quick double that in reality never looked likely.
Chances in front of goal then died down as the first half drew to a close, with Rangers losing recent first-team starter Danny Stoney to a foot injury shortly before the interval.
After the break, Rangers dominated possession and instantly almost added to their tally. Hardie was given too much space on the edge of the Celtic area and he produced a fine save from Jordan Hart.
The left wing was proving to be a key advantage to Rangers, with much of their play coming down that flank.
And that proved to be the key to finding the third goal as Hardie beat his man on the wing, before finding Ogen at the far post with a beautiful curling delivery. Making it look simple, Ogen cushioned a volley back across the goal and into the far corner, sending the Rangers faithful delirious.
It was seemingly getting away from Celtic as they were limited to shots from distance as the Rangers defence held firm under periods of sustained pressure.
A thrilling finale was set up however when McMullan notched his second of the night, picking the ball up 20 yards out before turning and smartly finding the top corner of the Rangers net with a sublime curling effort.
With minutes to go, Celtic came so close to sending themselves into the lead, with forward Aidan Nesbitt hitting the post not once but twice within the space of 30 seconds.
Rangers were certainly on the ropes but rallied to take control of the match, almost adding to their tally themselves in added time as a deflected cross from the left channel spun off the crossbar.
However they remained resilient and saw out the match as they claimed the second oldest trophy in world football for a record 48th time.
The match was to be remembered not only for what happened on the pitch, but also for what occurred in the stands. Seats were ripped out by Celtic fans as the tense nature of the fixture boiled over.
There were also reports that match winner Junior Ogen had been racially abused throughout the match by opposition supporters, with these rumours yet to be confirmed.