Rangers 2-2 Heart of Midlothian AET, 8-7 pens
Hearts U20s agonisingly lost out to Rangers on penalties this evening in the Final of the Scottish Youth Cup.
Despite leading twice in the game, through Sam Nicholson and Billy King, Rangers pegged the Wee Jambos back both times with Greg Pascazio and Craig Halkett the heroes for the Light Blues.
What followed was a stalemate in extra time and the heartache of a penalty shootout loss.
Robbie Neilson was able to include first-teamers Nicholson, King, Callum Paterson, Jordan McGhee, and Dale Carrick, while mainstays of this year's U20s side Liam Gordon, Liam Smith, Angus Beith and Gary Oliver featured, with Jordan Millar between the sticks and Scotland U17 cap Aaron Scott patrolling the midfield.
The first real chance of the match fell to Rangers in the fifth minute. A long ball over the top of the Hearts defence was met by Callum Gallagher, but he couldn't remain composed under pressure from Gordon and he shanked his shot wide from eight yards.
Despite the Wee Jambos dominance in the opening stages, it was Rangers who again had a great chance to take the lead. Darren Ramsay pounced on a loose ball on the quarter hour mark and drove into the Hearts box before pulling the trigger from 10 yards, but Millar did well to push the ball into the air and round the post.
Hearts made the breakthrough that their play deserved after half an hour. Paterson skinned his man on the right to send over a deep-swinging cross, and although Nicholson's initial header was saved by Liam Kelly, the flying winger was first to react and stabbed home the game's opening goal.
The Wee Jambos came flying out of the traps in the second half, with Paterson heading over from King's corner and then Oliver saw his shot saved from an acute angle.
Oliver should've doubled Hearts' lead in the 52nd minute. He followed up when Kelly smothered a through-ball then spilled, but the Hearts No. 10 could only hit the side-netting from a couple of yards out.
The Wee Jambos would rue those misses as Rangers grabbed an equaliser after 57 minutes. Full-back Pascazio drilled a long-range shot from 30 yards which, via a deflection, sailed through a clutch of bodies and into the back of the net.
It didn't remain all-square for too long, however, as five minutes later Hearts regained the lead. Beith's close-range shot was blocked in the box and after a couple of ricochets the ball landed at the feet of King, who scooped it high and beyond Kelly in the Rangers goal.
Rangers almost equalised instantly. Millar miss-kicked a passback and the ball fell perfectly to substitute Jamie Burrows, but the Hearts 'keeper regained his composure to save bravely at the Rangers striker's feet.
King was proving to be a real thorn in the side of Rangers, and with 76 minutes on the clock he ran through the Rangers defence before pulling the trigger from 25 yards, but his effort flew inches past Kelly's right-hand post.
Disaster struck with only two minutes of the match remaining. A high ball forward was missed at the edge of the box by Millar, with Rangers' Halkett instead getting the crucial touch with his head to divert the ball into the empty net.
As the game entered extra time both teams went in search of the winning goal. Rangers almost got it when Barry McKay ran at the Hearts defence before dragging his shot wide from inside the box.
Minutes later, Millar made a brilliant block at point-blank range from Burrows, as the Wee Jambos looked to have their backs against the wall.
Hearts almost nicked it with three minutes remaining of the second period of extra time. Carrick spun on the edge of the box an proceeded to rattle the ball off of Kelly's right-hand post.
The match would eventually be decided by a penalty-shootout. Luca Gasparotto had the first penalty saved by Millar, while McGhee's own effort was saved too. Rangers' Charlie Telfer buried the next penalty, with Carrick following suit. Callum Gallagher then sent Millar the wrong way, and Kelly pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny Hearts' Scott.
McKay slotted his penalty to put Rangers 3-1 up, and captain Liam Smith kept Hearts in it by putting his effort straight down the middle.
The pressure was all on Halkett to win the game for Rangers but Millar brilliantly saved. Beith then scored to take the shootout into sudden death.
Andy Murdoch stepped up and lifted his penalty high into the net and Gary Oliver responded by netting as well.
With the score at 4-4, Rangers' Scott Roberts managed to squeeze his effort over the line, which left Sean McKirdy to roll his shot home too.
Jamie Burrows slammed home his penalty but Robbie Buchanan expertly dispatched his penalty into the top corner.
Rangers' Ryan Sinnamon had his penalty saved by Millar, but with the chance to win the game, Liam Gordon's strike was also saved.
Pascazio, scorer from earlier in the game, then scored his spot-kick, but Paterson stepped up to make it 7-7.
That left goalkeeper versus goalkeeper, with Kelly rattling home his penalty. Heartbreakingly, Millar's shot was then saved by that man Kelly and with that, Rangers were winners of the SFA Youth Cup.
Rangers: Kelly, Pascazio, Sinnamon, Halkett, Gasparato, Telfer, Stoney (Burrows, 52'), Murdoch, Gallagher, Dykes (McKay, 52'), Ramsay (Roberts, 73'). Subs: Gibson, McMinn.
Hearts: Millar; Paterson, Gordon, McGhee, L. Smith; King (Buchanan, 87'), Beith, Scott, Nicholson (McKirdy, 102'); Oliver, Carrick. Subs: Mason, Ford, Simpson.
Referee: William Wilson
Top man: Sam Nicholson