It was an emotional afternoon at Loftus Road as the Rangers faithful gave a royal send off to two departing legends, club captain Nedum Onuoha and fellow stalwart Jamie Mackie. There was barely a dry eye in the house as they made their way around their spiritual home for the final time, taking the applause for their huge efforts for the Rangers cause over many years.
Yet life moves on and, in something akin to a seamless transition, it was of a case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’ as the Rangers youngsters once again stole the show. On this occasion it was Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair who scored their first goals for the club, making it now five players of 20 years of age or under who have scored their first goals for the club this season. This really is some going and credit must be given to Ian Holloway and his team for having the faith in the youth and they have been richly rewarded.
The good news for Rangers fans is that these young lads can only get better. They have had a taste of it, they clearly like it and they want more. These two latest Rangers goalscorers follow on from Aramide Oteh, Paul Smyth and Ebere Eze, who have also notched their first goals for the club this season, and they all appear keen and hungry to add to their tallies. The unrestrained joy of these youngsters celebrating their goals has been wonderful to see. After all, as small boys they must have dreamed of such moments and what can be better than fulfilling those dreams.
In addition, the performances of fellow youngsters Darnell Furlong, Osman Kakay and Ryan Manning bodes well for the future. The club are now returning to their ideals of the past, in developing and promoting their young players, and everyone associated with the club, both supporters and staff, seems to feel better for it.
Yet a successful team does invariably need a balance between youth and experience. As former pundit Alan Hansen famously said in August 1995, “you can’t win anything with kids” and whilst the Manchester United side of that vintage proved him wrong, the adage is generally true.
For Rangers, the more experienced Josh Scowen, captain for the day, was the glue that held the team together; Luke Freeman invariably provided the creative spark in the final third and then, towards the end when Birmingham City came strongly back into the match, Holloway turned to the bench to bolster his team. He introduced Onuoha himself to shore things up at the back as well as Matt Smith, to add a little more control and fire power at the front. Inspired decisions again, for Onuoha did indeed add his physical presence to the Rangers rearguard and Smith adroitly shot home off the post in injury time to make it 3-1 and settle any lingering nerves for the home team’s supporters.
For Birmingham City, their survival in the Championship will now go to the last day of the season, when they host promotion chasing Fulham. No small task in view of Fulham’s current form so they might need to rely on results elsewhere. Here they were ultimately well beaten despite some late forays when they chased an equaliser. They had spells when they threatened, no more so when, having weathered the early Rangers storm, they fought their way back into the match and were rewarded with a neat close range finish from Che Adams to put them into the lead.
However, their supporters noisy celebrations were quelled within two minutes as Rangers equalised and that proved to be significant. Their tall and rangy substitute, Sam Gallagher, added some height and purpose to their attack in the second half and Jota looked dangerous throughout, but overall it was a disappointing afternoon for them.
For Rangers, it was a joyful and emotional occasion, which will be remembered by all of those who had the pleasure to be there. To sign off with a victory in the final home match of the season is always a good way to finish in front of their home supporters. Allied to a few tearful goodbyes, it made for a special afternoon and gave a feeling of hope and optimism for the coming season. If these Rangers youngsters can keep progressing like this, the future looks bright.