Five Things to look out for as the SWPL returns

The SWPL, along with women’s football across the country, returns this weekend after a two month absence which saw Scotland make their World Cup bow and over 3000 fans support our U19’s as they acted as hosts for the European Women’s U19 Championships. Here at Leading the Line we thought we would take advantage of the often used “Five Things…” concept and give you five things to look out for as the SWPL looks to build on the momentum of the summer.

What will the crowd be at Petershill Park come 2.10pm this Sunday?

Whilst crowds across the country this Sunday will be closely monitored by those hoping for a supporter bounce after the national side’s World Cup campaign it will be the top of the table clash between Glasgow City and Hibernian where most eyes will be focused. The SWPL have gone all in on this clash between the 12-in-a-row defending champions and the side who have won the last seven domestic cup competitions. A well attended press call was held this week and interview coverage has dropped every day via the SWPL social media channels accompanied by mentions during national news broadcasts.

It is an understandable tactic to place so much focus on this first v second clash with up to seven of Shelley Kerr’s squad being on show but it has also led to a feeling that the other 14 sides competing this weekend have been put in the shadows. Can you truly cultivate holistic growth by only focusing on the games two most successful teams? A debate for another time. The SWPL Cup Final meeting between the two sides back in May drew a crowd of 983 however their league game earlier in the season only just touched three figures. A big turn out on Sunday would be a massive step in the right direction.

How will Gregory Vignal approach his new role at Rangers?

Rangers have been treading water in the SWPL for some time now and so the announcement this summer that they would be integrating their women’s teams into the set up at the Hummel Training Centre along with news that significant funding would be on it’s way will have been welcomed by those who have kept things going over recent seasons. One of the key figures during this period, Amy McDonald, has been promoted to oversee the development of the women’s side of the club with her replacement as head coach being former Liverpool and Rangers defender, Gregory Vignal.

Vignal, who has spent the last two years gaining praise for his work within the Rangers Youth Academy, is an appointment that certainly adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the returning season. During interviews conducted by Rangers TV both he and Amy McDonald were at pains to stress that they know to be involved with Rangers is to win and that as it stands the current squad aren’t at the required level.

That squad is almost unchanged, minus the loss of Scotland U19 captain Amy Muir who has departed to Hibernian, but the players have been receptive to their new coach’s methods. During his side’s recent 6-0 friendly victory against SWPL2 Hamilton Academical, and perhaps as a nod to his playing days as an attacking full back, he was constantly encouraging his team to play with width and it will be interesting to see how they line up for their Old Firm encounter against Celtic on Sunday. The last time the two sides met Eddie Wolecki Black’s title chasers ran out comfortable 4-1 winners and so any improvement on that result will ensure the Frenchman gets off on the right foot.

Will it be Forfar Farmington or Stirling University that will continue to struggle?

Played twenty-two, won one, drawn two, lost nineteen. That’s the combined record for both sides as they head into this relegation battle at Station Park. Uni’s only point of the season so far came back in March at home to their drop rivals whilst Farmington’s sole three point haul came as a result of a 3-2 victory at home to Motherwell, a result just as notable for the controversial manner in which an injury time equaliser for the Women of Steel was ruled as it was for the win itself.

Whilst the student side have retained Craig Beveridge as coach the Angus outfit have made a change with Stevie Baxter replaced by 21-year-old Nathan Flight. Flight was Baxter’s assistant and has experience working within the academy system but there is no doubting the size of the task at hand, made even more difficult with the loss of Danni McGinley and Robyn Smith to SWPL2 title chasers Hearts. With only three points separating the sides at the bottom, a win will be massive for their respective survival bids, especially given their struggles against the rest of the division to date.

Who can break the six team title race in SWPL2?

In the Leading the Line SWPL Preview/Review Podcast (listen and subscribe here) I made the foolish mistake of trying to narrow the SWPL2 title race down to just Hearts and Hamilton Academical, and whilst these two currently lead the way there is only six points separating the top of the table Jambos and Glasgow Girls in sixth.

In a league, where the leaders have lost to 5th placed Dundee United twice, and an end of spring mini-run of form for FC Kilmarnock saw them move up to 4th, anything goes. There has also been two managerial changes in the division with Glasgow Girls and Partick Thistle both appointing new coaches during the summer. John Doyle has swapped purple and black for red and yellow to work alongside Beth Adamson at Thistle whilst Iain Ferry comes in to take charge of a Girls squad that tailed off before the summer. Each of the top six sides are sprinkled with talent but it is perhaps the depth of the top two that would suggest they have the ability to go the distance. Hearts have boosted their squad with the aforementioned signings from Forfar Farmington along with Louise Mason from Spartans whilst Hamilton Academical have probably the best middle third in the league led by captain Amy Anderson. However in a season where a sustained winning run is a rare commodity, it is still possible that any of the top six could make a serious title charge.

Will Hutchison Vale get off the mark before the season is out?

If you thought Forfar Farmington and Stirling University fans had it hard then spare a thought for anybody who has been following Hutchie Vale week in, week out this season. The ending of an arrangement with Edinburgh University on the eve of the season meant that Vale went into the campaign with a highly inexperienced squad, the impact of which can easily be seen by their inability to earn a point so far this season. In fact they only scored their first goal in their penultimate match before the break against FC Kilmarnock and even then that was part of a 14-1 home defeat and they return with a modest goal difference of -111.

Ross McLaren has left the relative comfort of his role with Hearts U19 to take up the challenge of bringing some form of success to the Edinburgh side. He’s been joined by his assistant Greg Playfair and goalkeeping coach Euan Robertson with the acquisition of some more experienced faces as important as rebuilding the confidence of a young and result battered squad. In a week where Fort William earned their first win after a 840 day wait hope will remain that Vale will get on the board before the season is over.

Remember you can follow the latest flights of fancy from Leading the Line on Twitter @MFPTasty.

Sunday’s SWPL Fixtures:

SWPL1

Celtic v Rangers, 2pm, K Park

Glasgow City v Hibernian, 2.10pm, Petershill Park

Motherwell v Sparans, 2.30pm, Ravenscraig

Forfar Farmington v Stirling University, 4pm, Station Park

SWPL 2

Partick Thistle v St. Johnstone, 12pm, Petershill Park

Dundee United v Hamilton Academical, 1pm, Dundee International Sports Centre

Hutchison Vale v Glasgow Girls, 2pm, Saughton Enclosure

Hearts v FC Kilmarnock, Oriam, 15.30pm

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