Report by Paul Elliott
A header from Sarah Crilly, and an own goal by Hibs’ Emma Brownlie, gave Glasgow City a 2-0 victory in this season’s first meeting between Scotland’s ‘big two’ in women’s football.
New Douglas Park in Hamilton was a ‘home away from home’ for Glasgow City, as they welcomed the visit of last season’s closest challengers, Hibs, in the SWPL 1. The games between these two defined last season and there was much anticipation of Scotland’s top two coming head-to-head for the first time this season.
Hibs entered the game with a very attacking set-up, playing 3-4-3 with possession and 4-3-3 without. Their front three promised menace to come but it was City piling on the early pressure with Nicola Docherty in particular having influence down the left wing. It was a competitive affair but without any real goal scoring opportunities. Hibs forged the first chance of the game following a handball by Ruesha Littlejohn. It gave Emma Brownlie the opportunity to loop a high ball into the box but Gemma Fay between the sticks for City was commanding, and claimed the ball under pressure.
Then out of nowhere City opened the scoring. Fiona Brown was given the chance to run at Claire Williamson and went past her with ease; her cut back for Julie Fleeting was missed by the striker but the tracking Brownlie knocked it past her own keeper and into the back of the net. It was a cruel way to lose a goal for Hibs but for City it was deserved reward for the direct and powerful running by Brown. 1-0.
Following the goal Brown was causing havoc on the left wing for City. She is so strong and quick as she powers her way past defenders, and Hibs were struggling to handle her. Brown was again a central figure when City nearly scored a second through a training-ground corner kick routine, initially won by Brown. Docherty went on a decoy run to open up space for Brown, and after Leanne Ross slid the corner towards the winger only a deflection could prevent Brown’s shot hitting the back of the net.
City began to turn the screw sensing a second goal could come before the break. Only a last gasp challenge from Brownlie prevented Erin Cuthbert from scoring it as the half drew to a close. Cuthbert made an intelligent run into the box and Brown saw the opportunity to feed a pass towards the six yard box, only to be met by the toe of the sliding Brownlie.
Hibs suddenly came alive towards the end of the half, with Kirsty Smith in particular getting to the touchline on a couple of occasions but not finding the final ball to trouble Fay.
Then came the visitors’ best opportunity of the half. Lisa Robertson pinged a free kick towards the penalty spot, which was punched by Fay, but the ball landed on the edge of the six yard box for Brownlie who saw her effort deflected wide of the target for a corner kick.
City came out quick after the break and were clearly on the hunt for an early second goal. Fleeting had a chance cleared off the line but it seemed to energise Hibs with Heather Richards surging forward and causing bother down the left.
Sarah Ewens, on at half time for the visitors, settled quickly and had a chance for an early equaliser. A near post cross from the right found Ewens rising head and shoulders above the defence but her header zipped over the bar.
There was a 10-15 minute spell where the game was end-to-end. Cheryl McCulloch was called into action a few times to clear the danger for City; an innocuous challenge saw Brown writhe in agony on the ground; and a corner kick for Hibs prompted a goalmouth scramble before the ball was cleared just shy of the goal line.
Substitutes can change games and when Sarah Crilly came on for Littlejohn it didn’t take her long to have a massive impact on the match. Within minutes of Crilly’s arrival, Brown went surging down the left and sent an inch-perfect cross for Crilly, the smallest player on the park, who rose and sent a delightful header into the back of the net. 2-0
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Hibs and from then on the champions were in cruise control. They nearly added a third when Cuthbert fired a long range rocket but saw her effort touched round the post for another corner. Then Brown almost earned herself a well deserved goal after chasing down the ball being passed between the Hibs backline. Brown’s persistence saw her win the ball but her shot blasted straight at the keeper and was saved.
As the game came to a close City’s experience was easy to see, and they got over the line comfortably to pick up an important three points against their closest rivals.
Glasgow City are back in action next Sunday against Aberdeen in the semi-final of the League Cup. Kick off is 3pm at Ainslie Park, Edinburgh.
Report by Paul Elliott