After 112 days of inactivity SWPL1 returned with coverage of the women’s game in Scotland having never been higher. The season resumes with live game broadcasts on both BBC Alba and BBC Sport Online along with the debut of a new 30 minutes Sunday night highlights show on the BBC Scotland Channel.
On a weekend where Rangers and Glasgow City moved five points clear of their city rivals Celtic in the title chase Chris Marshall looks at three of the key takeaways from Sunday’s action.
GLASGOW CITY’S NEW SIGNINGS SHINE
Glasgow City were impressive as they swept aside Celtic at K Park in a 3-0 victory that stood out for the impact that the five faces making their SWPL1 debuts made, with a result that was an important win for the team on the pitch and a success for City’s scouting network off it as each debutant left their mark on the game.
Defensively City had been in need of reinforcements for some time, an issue that appears to finally have been resolved with the arrival of Janine van Wyk and Arna Sif Ásgrimsdóttir, a partnership of immense experience that dovetailed to great effect when snuffing out anything that the Celtic frontline could throw at them.
van Wyk may not have the physical presence of her Icelandic partner but the South African captain’s reading of the game saw Celtic rarely penetrate the final third, stepping up to intercept time and time again. When Fran Alonso instructed his side to go long it would be Ásgrimsdóttir winning the battles in the air, a knack she would repeat in the opposing area to score City’s second whilst Julia Molin looks a shrewd acquisition, adding grit to the full back areas.
Further up the field Niamh Farrelly (who would also score) and Costa Rican Priscilla Chinchilla won the midfield battle supported by the experienced Jo Love. Love’s awareness to step back into defence or forward into midfield dependent on the point of transition for the City attack meant Celtic could never get going. Chinchilla’s ability to identify pockets of space and drive through them with ball at feet particularly stood out in a first half performance that laid the foundations for the goals to come later in the game while Hayley Lauder, playing in a more advanced role, rarely misplaced a pass.
Nicole Robertson worked tirelessly up front with her assist for Aoife Covill’s opener a lesson in dogged forward play and when you consider Claire Shine, Cailin Michie, Ode Fulutidulu, Tyler Toland and Maddie Fulton are just some of the names absent from City’s match day squad Scott Booth now finds himself with a level of resource not previously available. For Celtic their new signings failed to ignite and it should be a worry to Fran Alonso how little his side created as they fall five points behind their Glasgow rivals.
EMMA BROWNLIE SETS THE STANDARD
Earlier in the day Rangers ensured they would end the weekend top of the table with a comfortable 6-0 victory over a young Hearts side. First Rangers goals for Sam Kerr and a penalty double for Lizzie Arnot may attract the headlines but it was the performance of Emma Brownlie that stood out during a relentless opening half from the league leaders.
Normally an attacking full back Brownlie, who’s arrival from Everton in September 2019 was viewed by many as the start of a recruitment drive that would see the Light Blues push towards becoming title contenders, was pushed up the wing in the absence of injured Northern Ireland international Megan Bell and excelled in her more advanced role. Rangers ability to stretch the play from touchline to touchline was at it’s best in the opening period with Brownlie, backed up by Rachel McLauchlan on the right hand side, starting the move that eventually saw Sam Kerr get the opener, but it was the precision of pass she demonstrated for Zoe Ness’ fifth that really took the eye, splitting the Hearts defence from a central position.
Post match Malky Thomson praised her standard-setting condition following yet another enforced pause in play over the winter and her versatility both in defence and midfield will help the Rangers Head Coach as he looks to manage player loads ahead of a hectic end of season schedule. McLauchlan and Nicola Docherty will rightly catch the eye with their buccaneering full back play but in Brownlie Rangers have a player that they can rely upon time and time again.
THIS IS SPARTA(NS)
With the narrative set for what will hopefully be an exciting spring sprint for the SWPL1 title it would be easy to forget what’s going on underneath the pursuit of trophies and Champions League places. Any notion of doing that were put on the back burner as Debbi McCulloch’s Spartans side moved into fourth with a 2-0 victory over city rivals Hibernian thanks to goals from Becky Galbraith and Kat Smart.
Back in 2009 Spartans themselves were involved in a final day title decider and although results didn’t go their way that day they have long since been an established fixture in SWPL1. Victory over Hibernian not only saw them leapfrog their Edinburgh rivals but also sent the Hibees down to sixth following Forfar Farmington’s 3-2 victory over Motherwell in Lanarkshire. The expectation is that a Hibernian squad containing talents such as Scotland internationalists Rachael Boyle and Amy Muir should be doing better but one has to wonder if the seemingly endless need to regenerate a team that often sees it’s best talent cherrypicked by bigger sides has not been due a dip given their remarkable success in recent seasons.
That though should not detract from what was a significant victory for Spartans who continue to maintain their place in Scotland’s top flight as enthusiasm for the game gathers pace. They may not lift the trophy come June this campaign but they could certainly be disruptors as the big three continue their race for the title.
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