Stirling University 3
Gallon 23, 25, Pullar 78
Littlejohn 2 pen, 64 pen, Grant 75, Mulvey 90
In spite of getting off to a flier with a Ruesha Littlejohn penalty in two minutes, Celtic found Stirling difficult opponents once more.
Eventually a second Littlejohn penalty, a strike by Abbi Grant and a winner from Suzanne Mulvey five minutes into injury time saw the Hoops emerge winners from this seven-goal nail-biter.
With stalwarts Kerry Montgomery and Natalie Ross both side-lined by injury, Celtic gave teenager Kaela McDonald-Nguah her first start in central midfield. Kiera Gibson continued to deputise for Megan Cunningham in goal, and Cara McBrearty was given a second outing of the season at left back.
In the first attack of the game, Celtic’s Mulvey was brought down in the penalty area, with Littlejohn calmly stroking the resulting penalty low into the net.
The early stages were characterised by Celtic’s possession being continually disrupted by the University’s close marking and quick tackling. The Hoops were taking the game to their opponents, with right-back Alex Middleton keen to get forward at every opportunity.
They were unable to trouble keeper Logan, although she was often shielded by five or six defenders in their own penalty area.
Stirling, for their part, did not look capable of putting any pressure on Celtic’s back line. All this was to change, however, after 23 minutes when a central through ball was pursued at pace by Gallon who burst into the penalty area and stroked the ball well beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.
This should have alerted the Hoops to Stirling’s pace, but only a minute later they were once more undone by sheer running power as Donaldson raced past the Celtic defence on the wing and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Gallon to volley home from close in.
Stirling were able to hold on to this 2-1 advantage until half-time. Celtic had few opportunities to test the University keeper although Mulvey and Kirsty Howat both had chances before the break.
Although the first half had been competitive with some close marking and sharp tackling, there had been no indication of the fierce contest which the second half was to become.
Neither side looked comfortable on the soft grass surface, finding difficulty in weighting their passes and judging the bounce of the ball.
This, combined with fierce and sometimes careless tacking, gave the referee a very difficult afternoon and the game came to the boil in the last quarter of the match.
Celtic’s ascendancy was clear early in the second half with wide player Howat prominent in possession and posing a threat on the left wing. In spite of her tenacity, hard work and speed, she was unable to produce a telling pass or shot.
In 64 minutes Stirling keeper Logan produced a fine save to deflect the ball for a corner, as Celtic continued to press forward. At the other end the Hoops defenders had to be alert at all times as the home team were able to launch speedy counter-attacks from time to time with Pullar’s pace and ability on the ball always a threat.
Just when it looked that frustration was beginning to creep into Celtic’s play, they were awarded a second penalty when Middleton was tripped. This resulted in the first of several yellow cards towards the end of the game. Littlejohn scored confidently once more from the spot and it was 2-2 after 64 minutes, with both teams still confident of a winner.
First blood went to Celtic in the 75th minute, when the ball broke to Grant after a wonderful save from Logan dropped at her feet.
Stirling appeared undaunted at this and once again exploited their pace on the counter when, only three minutes later, they were back on level terms after a strike from Pullar.
It was now an intense contest, with both sides determined to come out on top. Celtic lost the services of Littlejohn in 82 minutes when she ill-advisedly expressed her opinion to the referee who issued her a straight red card.
Kiera Gibson, the 16-year old Celtic keeper kept her team in the game with two exceptional saves in this last frantic spell; the first an acrobatic tip over the crossbar, and the second a full-length five to parry a shot from point-blank range.
Both of these shots were net-bound and the saves allowed Celtic the opportunity to take the points five minutes into injury time. A mix-up, and a collision between Stirling defenders in their six-yard box, led to the ball breaking to Mulvey. Time seemed to stand still before the Hoops’ top scorer got her foot to the ball and drove it home.
This was not vintage football from Celtic who did stick to the task. Celtic’s player of the match was Kiera Gibson who put neither foot nor glove wrong throughout the 90 minutes. Her two wonderful late saves paved the way for the injury- time winner.
A word of sympathy for Stirling keeper Chloe Gibson – a former Celtic player – who also made two game-changing saves and will feel aggrieved at losing the winning goal after being pole-axed by her own team mate.
Celtic: Gibson, Middleton, Clark, McBrearty, Whyte, McDonald-Nguah (Rafferty 70), Richards, Littlejohn, Grant, Howat, Mulvey.
Subs not used: Cunningham, Dalgliesh, Montgomery, Ross.
Reported by Celtic FC
Picture: Celtic FC