By Chris Marshall (@mershdoes)
In one of many iconic images from the career of Andres Iniesta the Spanish midfielder finds himself surrounded by six check-shirted Croatians during a Euro 2012 group match in Gdańsk. An image that stands out not for the impending doom set to befall him but for the apparent imminence of his escape.
It’s a picture that came to the forefront of my mind as Glasgow Women and Stirling University got the 2020/21 SWPL season underway at New Tinto Park on a suitably autumnal October day in Glasgow’s south side.
This weekend has been long in the making. The night before I was like a kid at Christmas, looking out (before then forgetting to pack) the new kit I had purchased back in February. But with the need to complete declaration forms, wear masks, get temperatures checked and to sit in isolation as supporters remained at home it was hard not to let an undercurrent of melancholy flow alongside the contented relief that the games could once again begin. A performance to re-confirm that all this had been worth it would help and Glasgow Women obliged.
The hosts dominated from the outset, a 4-0 scoreline reflective of the contrast between two sides tuned in at different wavelengths. As the visitors struggled to find the right frequency the home side had captain Lucy Ronald in control of the dial, dictating the beat. Half way through the first half, in a scene similar to that of Iniesta in Poland, the midfielder would show nimble feet and tight control to leave three green shirts around her frustrated before rolling the ball forward to commence another attacking wave.
In SWPL2 the game can move by in a flash, with a cut and thrust that can lead to a chaos which frustrates and entertains in equal measure. In Ronald though, Glasgow Women have a player that demands your attention, her composure coming not only on the ball but from her movement and presence too. As I began to tune in to her rhythm the volume of her craft started to increase. Each touch taken was done with purpose, the ball caressed before it was sent zipping across the airwaves from her central position.
On occasion the visitors made it easy for her, but even when they could get close Ronald was never more than a flick and a pivot away from avoiding danger. Post-match she admitted a desire to add more goals to her game and she was unfortunate to not get on the scoresheet as a forward surge and quick one-two with experienced striker Suzie MacTaggart sent her clear. Only an unfortunate defending foot denied her the opportunity to add the second, the home side having to make-do with an own goal instead.
Current Glasgow Women coach Craig Joyce had worked with Ronald during their time together at Glasgow City’s developmental side and whilst he sees a bright future for the midfielder he’s keen to keep her feet on the ground.
“She has so much composure,” Joyce enthused post match, “and such a calm head on her. I don’t want to big her up too much because she still has a lot of work to do but I think she is one that is willing to go and work, to be great and to learn. She’s such an intelligent player as well and very rarely wastes the ball.”
Of course he’s right to temper the hype, there will be sides who will not afford her the same time that Stirling did, a greater physicality will have to come over time too and a true measure of how far she can go will only come when faced with more seasoned opposition. There is no doubting that all the tools are there though.
Joyce was also at pains to point out that it wasn’t just Ronald that had impressed as the home side produced a display brimming with youthful enthusiasm, attacking verve and bubbling tenacity, “Ideally we would have liked some more senior players in but they’ve chosen to go to other clubs but we also wanted players that had maybe dipped their toe in at this level (SWPL) and wanted more of it.” He continued, “People sometimes get a wee bit hung up on age (only three of his side’s starting eleven were over 19) and forget they have experienced levels of football themselves.”
One of those fellow standouts was former Hibernian attacker Abbi McDonald who would score the opening goal of the 2020/21 SWPl season, capitalising on a lapse by Uni keeper Claire Whittaker before adding an assist for Women’s well crafted third, getting on the end of a deep set through ball from Jade Wilson, her cross met emphatically at the back post by former Spartan Tara McGonigle. MacTaggart volleyed in a fourth just after the interval to take any sting out of the game before a carousel of changes staccatoed any momentum.
For the visitors, made up of a squad you feel is not quite yet complete, there were glimmers. Lindsey Blues, one of only a handful of survivors from last season’s winless SWPL1 campaign, looked industrious and willing in a more advanced position at the base of the midfield but in truth they never threatened a Glasgow side who whilst being exciting going forward still have some kinks to be worked out in defence.
The home side end the weekend top of the SWPL2 table and it will be a big ask for them to hold that position until season ends but for now they can bask in the glow of an exhilarating opening day display anchored by the composure of one of the league’s most exciting young midfielders. For a brief moment at least, everything felt normal again.
Other Quick Thoughts
- Having started my day just a few hundred metres from Ibrox I ended it at the Rangers Training Centre as the home side cruised to a 5-1 victory over Hearts. A debut hat-trick from Zoe Ness will get the headlines, the striker returning from a long time injury to provide the finishing touches to Rangers pressure, her third a particularly clinical piece of striker play, but it was Lizzie Arnot who the home side continued to rely on as the game progressed. The former Manchester United attacker was relentless and as Rangers develop she will not only become a focal point but also a potential distraction that will allow other players to succeed.
- Glasgow City looked good in their 2-0 victory over Celtic. They are a far more stable proposition compared with the side that took on the same team back in February but as good as City were it is worth noting that three of the players who had significant impacts on the game Rachel McLauchlan, Kirsty Howat (who both scored) and Sam Kerr (who was voted Player of the Match) will be swapping orange for blue come the start of 2021. City are still the side to beat but reinforcements will have to come.
- Hibernian and Forfar Farmington both started with wins, with both games available to watch live and in full. Coverage as a whole prior to the big kick off was good and felt infused with renewed purpose but momentum is key and as the winter months close in finding ways to keep fans engaged will be crucial in ensuring that any progress made doesn’t go to waste.
- SWPL2 is often considered the connoisseurs choice when it comes to Scottish women’s football and the opening weekend proved that those in the know are set for another entertaining campaign. Aberdeen’s 4-3 comeback win against Dundee United, the visitors having been 3-2 up with five minutes to play, was the stand out performance of the day. Title favourites Hamilton Academical were 3-1 winners at home to Boroughmuir Thistle and Partick Thistle, now managed by men’s first time striker Brian Graham, were 3-0 victors away to Queen’s Park.
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