After only two training sessions back after the Winter break the Academy 17s travelled up to Murray Park to take on Rangers in a friendly on Sunday in a 1pm kick off. A trip to Murray Park is a tough ask at the best of times but the boys were to give a good account of themselves, especially first half where they were the better side and must have impressed the watching Scott Booth of the SFA with some of their possession football.
As the game kicked off it was Rangers who were first to threaten in the 8th minute when a corner was swung in from the far right hand and the Big number 2, up from the back, rose well but his downward header went wide of the left hand post. After 15 minutes Jai Holland did well to latch on to a pass down the outside left channel before cutting inside his marker and shooting for the near post but McCrorie in the Rangers nets saved comfortably. After 20 minutes Ayr swung in a dangerous corner, the ball deflected off a defender’s head and rebounded off the goalies gloves to Regan Ross who headed for goal but his effort went agonisingly over the bar.
Callum Smith was then carried from the field by the Ayr Physio and team mates as he couldn’t put any weight on his foot and it looked a sore one. Shortly after came the controversial moment in the match. As a long ball was played forward, Jai Holland rose with the Rangers centre back in an effort to head the ball and as both boys went for the ball they accidentally clashed heads with the Rangers centre back accidentally heading the back of Jai’s head. Both boys went down with the Rangers centre back holding his forehead and Jai holding the back of his head. However the referee raced up to the scene and gave Rangers the free kick with Jai receiving a straight red card. To be fair the Rangers players and their Head of Youth intervened with the referee on Jai’s behalf. The referee eventually allowed Ayr to introduce Jarod Keifer as their lone striker to replace Jai in a forced substitution.
In the 30th minute a good move saw the Rangers number 10 blast high and wide from the edge of the box. The five minutes later Rangers delivered a dangerous in-swinging free kick but the flicked header went wide of the left hand post. After 40 minutes the big Rangers number 10 cut inside from the left but his curling effort with the right foot went past the right hand post. Just as the half was coming to an end Ayr were to fall behind when the Rangers number 9 picked the ball up inside the Ayr box on the right hand side. His shot took a wicked deflection which took it past Louis Kerr into the Ayr net. However Ayr responded well to falling behind and a good move involving 7 or 8 quick passes through midfield saw Craig McGuffie on the ball at the edge of the box but Craig’s low effort went just past the Rangers right hand post.Reece Lapham
As the second half began Ayr came out with the words of the coaching staff ringing in their ears. They had passed the ball well in the first half and were unfortunate to be narrowly behind at the break. After 5 minutes however it was Rangers who had the first attempt of the second half when the number 11 shot over from 25 yards out. Louis Kerr then did well to come through a crowded six yard box to punch a Rangers corner clear. After 55 minutes a feint and a swivel of the hips saw David Richardson leave two Rangers midfielders trailing before he played the ball forward into the feet of Craig McGuffie. Craig strode forward and let rip with a 25 yard effort which was heading for the top corner but the Rangers Youth International keeper McCrorie showed his class by plucking the effort from the air without too much trouble. After 65 minutes Rangers played a free kick into the mixer to use their height advantage, the knock down back across goal to the left hand post was finished off from close in to double their lead. In the 70th minute a through ball was latched on to by the Rangers number 12 and he finished with aplomb low past Louis Kerr.
Rangers were on top now as Ayr dug in but they were visibly tiring against opponents of whom even at u17 level many are full time footballers. With 10 minutes to go a flowing Rangers move saw the no 6 finish well with a low driven shot from the right hand side of the box across Louis Kerr into the bottom left hand corner. With 2 minutes to go the Rangers number 16 showed good strength against Reece Lapham, (pictured) who had been outstanding for Ayr at the back all day alongside Regan Ross, he cut in and shot but a great defensive block saw the ball cleared for a corner. The same Rangers player then put a great ball across goal from the Ayr left but there were no takers in the middle. The referee then blew to bring the match to an end.
Ayr United started this match with six lads who are 1998 birthdays and will be eligible again for u17s next season. There were also a number of trialists playing who all showed up well in the match. The final score line flattered the home side and it would have been interesting to have seen how the game would have panned out if the sending off had not disrupted the young Honest Men at a time in the match when they were on top. Special mention must also go to Reece Lapham at the back as although he is not the biggest of defenders his ability to read the game allows him to anticipate and snuff out the danger on so many occasions.