GORDON DURIE praised his Rangers youngsters as they lifted the Scottish Youth Cup with an 8-7 penalties victory over Hearts last night.
Just days after seeing their dreams of also winning the league ended by Old Firm rivals Celtic, the Ibrox second string bounced back in style to emerge victorious at the end of a 2-2 draw at St Mirren Park.
It was goalkeeper Liam Kelly who proved to be the hero as he converted Rangers' final spot kick and saved from his Hearts counterpart Jordan Millar to claim the cup for Durie's side. "It was a fantastic game and both teams contributed to that," said Durie. "I have got to give my players massive credit because we had a disappointment but they have been training well and been bright.
"I don't think we started too well in the first half but in the second half and in extra time I think we shaded it.
"I said to them that they have showed great character. Last week was a massive disappointment but they have worked hard. We say to them that they get their rewards and they got their rewards tonight."
While many in the Ibrox side have struggled to make the breakthrough into McCoist's senior side this season, the Hearts line-up contained several players who have impressed in the SPFL Premiership, with Callum Paterson, Jordan McGhee, Billy King, Dale Carrick, Gary Oliver and Sam Nicholson all handed starts.
Their experience showed early on as Robbie Neilson's side took the lead, Nicholson beating Kelly at the second attempt after meeting Paterson's deep cross and seeing his initial effort saved. Just after the break, Durie's side should have found themselves with a mountain to climb but when Oliver rounded Kelly just yards out, he somehow put his shot into the side netting.
Rangers were got themselves level just before the hour mark but it was not the returning Barrie McKay -back from a loan spell at Championship struggles Morton - or fellow substitute Jamie Burrows who was the hero. Greg Pasczio, the Ibrox defender, was instead the man who would find the net as his deflected drive beat Millar in the Hearts goal.
It should have been the lift Durie's side needed to go and win the game but they found themselves behind for the second time of the night just minutes later, Billy King hitting the net after Angus Beith saw his effort blocked on the line.
After Burrows and sub Scott Roberts had passed up glorious chances as Rangers piled forward, defender Craig Halkett finally got the breakthrough, his headed flick deceiving Millar as he rushed out to claim a long ball. It was an atrocious piece of goalkeeping, an error which might have cost Hearts victory.
The momentum was with Rangers in extra time and, after Luca Gasparotto had an effort ruled out for offside in the first period, Burrows again missed a sitter after a speedy break by McKay.
A penalty shoot-out decided the destination of the silverware and in a dramatic finale, Halkett missed the chance to win it for Rangers and it went to sudden death.
With the scores tied at 7-7, though, goalkeeper Kelly stepped up and slotted home before saving from opposite number Millar to win the cup in style for his side.