Rangers Colts will play their first-ever Challenge Cup tie at Ibrox this weekend when they host National League side Wrexham in the quarter-finals as Graeme Murty’s side exceed expectations in the competition.
The Light Blues have beaten Berwick Rangers, Stranraer, Ballymena United and Solihull Moors so far to reach this stage and are now just two games away from reaching a senior cup final for the first time.
Despite not playing in a domestic league this season after withdrawing from the SPFL set-up, the Colts have been taking part in the Challenge Cup and the UEFA Youth League, as well as playing a host of sides from across Britain and Europe in friendlies.
Saturday’s clash at Ibrox will be the biggest game in many of the young Gers careers to this point – and the first chance some fans will see them in the flesh – with over 750 Wrexham fans making the trip to Glasgow.
How will Rangers Colts line up?
The Colts will likely be missing a full-team worth of players eligible to play thanks to them being out on loan but it hasn’t hindered their success so far with the next group stepping up to great effect.
The likes of Josh McPake, Stephen Kelly, Glenn Middleton, Zak Rudden and Jordan Houston look set to be unavailable for Murty’s side however players such as James Maxwell, Lewis Mayo and Kai Kennedy haven’t been fazed by playing against senior sides.
Murty’s side is likely to be very similar to the one that lined up against Slovan Bratislava and Solihull Moors recently – although there is also the possibility of one of the first-team players being given a chance to impress.
The Colts often play in a shape reminiscent of the first-team with a central midfield trio and two pacy wingers feeding a central striker and pressing their opponents high up the pitch.
Both full-backs look to bomb forward constantly and pose a constant threat to the opposition while two central defenders comfortable on the ball constantly make themselves available to the midfield when they need to recycle possession.
With a host of talent such has Nathan Young-Coombes, Serge Atakayi and Leon King likely on the bench, the Colts will be hoping to take a step closer to a potential Hampden final.
GK: Lewis Budinauckas – Bud was the hero against Solihull in the last round as his two saves in the penalty shootout secured the Colts’ progression. The 17-year-old is the son of journeyman keeper Kevin, who played for Stenhousemuir, Partick Thistle, Clyde, Brechin City and Stranraer. Has been competing with Kieran Wright for the jersey but Wright is with Scotland under-21s to face Greece at Tynecastle on Friday night.
RB: Nathan Patterson – Patterson seems to have made the right-back spot his own and the attacking full-back has caught the eye in recent games. With Jordan Houston on loan at Ayr, Patterson has grabbed his chance for the Colts and really looks like he could have a good future in the game. Teenager is a regular in the Scotland under-19s side.
LB: James Maxwell – The left-back has won lots of plaudits recently and was at Falkirk until the Bairns made the decision to close their Academy a few years ago. Has really taken the move to Rangers in his stride and has consistently been a stand-out performer for the Colts. Another who is a constant feature in the Scotland under-19s.
CB: Rhys Breen – Breen has done fantastically well to come back from a horror three-year injury nightmare and is looking back to his best now he’s back to fitness. Has a really good understanding with Finlayson in central defence and has a commanding presence in the box. Probably the more dominant of the two centre-backs but also very comfortable on the ball.
CB: Daniel Finlayson – Finlayson has seemed to be around for ages and is now a fixture in defence for the Colts. Has captained the side at various age groups and has been a key part of the success of the Academy sides in recent season. Never seems to get flustered and has a really mature head on young shoulders.
DM: Lewis Mayo – Mayo has only recently returned to action after a short injury layoff and is a player with a massive future ahead of him. Comfortable in a number of positions, Mayo’s long-term future is probably in central defence but will likely be deployed as a holding midfielder against Wrexham. Has been on the fringes of the first-team and was promoted to the senior dressing room a few weeks ago.
CM: Jamie Barjonas – Barjonas will be one of the most familiar names on the teamsheet against Wrexham with the midfielder having been in and around the first-team since Pedro Caixinha was manager. One of the few players to be involved with every Challenge Cup campaign for the Colts so far and such an integral part of Murty’s side. Will be key against the Red Dragons.
CM: Ciaran Dickson – Dickson is the sort of player that will get fans off their seats – but can leave them a bit frustrated at times. For someone so young though, he’s got a really good eye for a pass and shows all the signs of growing into a supremely talented midfielder.
RW: Eros Grezda – Albanian international has become an important part of the team and, although his long-term prospects at Ibrox look grim, he has put the work in and earned plaudits from Murty for the way he’s handled his demotion.
LW: Kai Kennedy – If Dickson gets fans off their seats, Kennedy will have them on their feet constantly. The winger stole the show against Bratislava and is such an exciting player. Getting him involved will be crucial and he’s more than capable of creating a little bit of magic to unlock the Wrexham defence.
CF: Dapo Mebude – Scored against Bratislava the other night and the young striker is destined for the top. Jermain Defoe has been helping Dapo refine his game and become a better player and that can only help the youngster in his push for the first-team. When he’s on form, he’s as clinical as the best young strikers around and will be sure to cause the Wrexham defence problems.