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U20s make debut appearances in Irn Bru Challenge Cup

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The rebranded and reformatted Irn Bru Challenge Cup kicked off last night and as part of the new structure, Premiership clubs’ U20’s sides have been added into the mix.

The thinking behind this move that also sees teams from Northern Ireland and Wales enter the tournament, albeit at a later stage, is to give the young boys in these teams some added experience. Instead of just playing development league matches week in, week out the boys, some even hoping to break into their first teams, are gaining invaluable experience coming up against seasoned players, playing for league teams.

Ten out of the twelve U20’s sides were in action on Tuesday night seeing five of them progress to the next stage of the Irn Bru Cup.

Aberdeen’s U20’s were drawn in an away tie against Formartine United and did they relish the challenge. Formartine who are one of the better teams in the Highland League couldn’t cope with the young Dons in what was a relatively comfortable evening for Paul Sheerin and his team. Aberdeen found themselves five goals to nil up in the 80 the minute, three of those coming from the promising tricky winger Scott Wright that ensured he took the match ball home. Aaron Norris with a stunning curling effort and the former Manchester City striker Joe Nuttall were the other two players on target for the Dons as they blew Formartine away.

Understandably after a cracking performance from the Reds, legs began to tire allowing the home side to snatch two goals back late on. It was all too little too late for Formartine though as Aberdeen held on for the victory to secure their passage into the next round of the Irn Bru Challenge Cup.

Celtic U20’s despite being drawn at home in the tie, opted to play their game at Greenock Morton’s Cappielow Stadium. Brendan Rodgers, who was in attendance, would have been shocked at the start his young players made as Annan took the lead inside the opening minute. Rabin Omar chested the ball down at the edge of the box and volleyed into the bottom corner for the League two visitors. It was a stunning start to match.

Celtic U20’s didn’t panic however and after weathering the remainder of an early storm from Annan Athletic, they seized control of the game. They resumed parity to proceedings after 20 minutes when winger, Aiden Nesbitt, who impressed all evening, found a way past goalkeeper Mitchell. Celtic scored twice more before the break thanks to goals from Hendry and Aitchison. The second half continued in much the same manner and a further two goals from Nesbitt and Crossan to tick the score over to 5-1, all but sealed Celtic U20’s name in the hat for the next round. After a shaky start it was a comfortable evening for the young Hoops at a dreich Cappielow.

It wasn’t as pleasant an evening for the Dee U20s though. Arguably with one of the trickiest ties of the round, away to Cove Rangers, all looked to be going swimmingly for Eddie Johnson and his side as they took the lead after the half an hour mark through a strike from Greg Warwick from the edge of the box. After they had fallen behind Cove, stepped up the tempo and showed the quality that the Highland league possesses.

Two late second half goals came for the Aberdeen based side, knocking the stuffing out of the young Dundee side who had done so well to get into the lead in the first place. Unfortunately for them it wasn’t to be and Cove held on for the win.

Hearts U20’s staged a terrific comeback on the evening to ensure that they are still in the running for the Irn Bru Cup. It was a tough start for the Jambos as McKenzie opened the scoring after 4 minutes for Stirling Albion to put them into the lead. This rocked Hearts a little and they struggled to cope with the pressure From Stirling at times. This told when McKenzie grabbed his second of the game glancing a header into the net to make it 2-0 to the hosts come half time. Trailing by two goals and away from home in a cup tie, you would think the game was all but finished.

Hearts U20’s had different ideas however and a stunning second half performance saw them grab the three goals that they needed to progress. Two goals in a minute after the break from Jones and Roy put Hearts in the driving seat as momentum was very much in their favour. With 30 minutes left to play, McLean netted a pearler to complete Hearts’ comeback.

Inverness U20’s had a tough as they fell foul to a 3-0 defeat to visitors Arbroath. Youth manager Duncan Shearer was still adamant that they had taken a lot of positives from the game and it was a great learning curve for the U20 side. Arbroath netted twice before the 20 minute mark which kind of set the tone for the match, Unlike Hearts the Highlanders couldn’t stage a remarkable comeback and the result was compounded in the 77th minute as Martin Scott found the goal to make it a comfortable victory for the Red Lichties.

Despite being unable to grab a goal, Inverness had some chances to do so and did, as their manager said, put on a decent display for the crowd of just under 300 which had turned out.

Unfortunately for Kilmarnock their U20’s side was one of the five to go crashing out at the first time of asking in the Irn Bru Cup at the hands of Queen’s Park. A whirlwind start saw three goals in the opening fifteen minutes of which Queen’s netted two. There were three be two more goals before the before the break as Wharton and McGeever found the net for Queen’s to put them 3-1 up and firmly in the driving seat. Queen scored for Killie 20’s against Queens right on the stroke of Half Time to breathe some life back into the tie.

After the break however the match got away from the Ayrshire outfit and a goal in the 60th minute from Galt for the hosts, in reality, put the tie beyond Kilmarnock. Another goal from the penalty spot late on, ensured that Queen’s Park progressed leaving having no mercy on a youthful Killie side.

Motherwell U20’s had better fortunes as they hosted new league outfit Edinburgh City at Fir Park. Motherwell started the brighter and piled the pressure on the City goal forcing some decent stops from Antell in between the sticks. Just as City thought they had come through the worst of the pressure Motherwell nicked a goal before half time just as the swing of momentum was going Edinburgh City’s way. Mackin got the goal with a turn and neat finish from the edge of the box.

The game continued to be a rather even affair but it was Motherwell U20’s who doubled their lead thanks to Thomas Fry. City did manage to pull a goal back with 20 minutes still to run but Motherwell U20’s showed composure and excellent game management to see the job through.

Inverness U20’s had a tough as they fell foul to a 3-0 defeat to visitors Arbroath. Youth manager Duncan Shearer was still adamant that they had taken a lot of positives from the game and it was a great learning curve for the U20 side. Arbroath netted twice before the 20 minute mark which kind of set the tone for the match, Unlike Hearts the Highlanders couldn’t stage a remarkable comeback and the result was compounded in the 77th minute as Martin Scott found the goal to make it a comfortable victory for the Red Lichties.

Despite being unable to grab a goal, Inverness had some chances to do so and did, as their manager said, put on a decent display for the crowd of just under 300 which had turned out.

Partick Thistle U20’s were the team that performed outstandingly and came away with the best scoreline on the night. A five goal to nil victory from the young Jags, largely aided by Kevin Nisbet hat-trick, at a tough venue in the way of Broadwood Stadium, sees them safely through to the second round of the Irn Bru cup. Remarkably, the game after a decent half of football from Thistle, was 0-0 at Half Time. Cue the Thistle rampage. Five goals in 35 minutes, an astonishing feat, made it a comfortable win in what was predicted to be a relatively close match. Among those goals were three from the stand out man of the match, James Penrice and Neil McLaughlin. Looking at that result, nobody will be wanting to see their team drawn against Partick U20’s in the next round.

Ross County U20’s narrowly missed out on progression to the next round of the Irn Bru cup as they went down 3-2 after extra time to Brora Rangers. Brora opened the scoring in the match through Pollock and that was all for the opening period. The Staggies fought back bravely and Greg Morrison got the equaliser. County pushed on and then took the lead as James Wallace bulged the net and it looked as if that would be enough to see them through. That was not to be as Brora equalised late on forcing the match into extra time. Brora capitalised on the tired legs of the young Staggies and retook to lead in the first period of extra time. Unfortunately for County that’s how the score remained but they can be proud of the performance against a well-established Highland league outfit.

Finally to finish our U20’s round up we end with St Johnstone and maybe not on the happiest of notes. Things were looking up for the young Saints as they took the lead through promising youngster Greg Hurst as he slotted the ball under the goalkeeper. In what was a pretty even game, Turriff did manage to find an equaliser after the break to get back into the game through a near post header. That looked as if how proceedings were going to end as extra time beckoned but the visitors and David Booth had other ideas as he volleyed past the keeper in the 86th minute to send the young Saints crashing out.

It was certainly a mixed bag for the U20’s sides that took to the field last night some triumphed while some were despondent in defeat. Nonetheless it’s all a learning experience for the young boys and this is why they were introduced into the reformatted challenge cup, so that they can gain this experience and use it going forward.

Hamilton U20’s took on Cumbernauld Colts a day later and were comfortable winners at Broadwood. Steven Boyd, Ryan Tierney and Ross Cunningham the scorers, as Accies progressed with a 3-0 victory.

To round off the first round action, Rangers take on Stirling University next week.

Full Irn Bru Cup scores:
Clyde 0-5 Partick Thistle U20
Ross County U20 2-3 Brora Rangers (AET)
Berwick Rangers 0-3 Spartans
Celtic U20 5-1 Annan Athletic
Cove Rangers 2-1 Dundee FC U20
East Stirlingshire 0-3 Montrose
Formartine Utd 2-5 Aberdeen
Inverness U20 0-3 Arbroath
Motherwell U20 2-1 Edinburgh City

Ryan Crombie | YFS South East Region Journalist
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