Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup first round
Sunday February 19, 2017, K-Park Training Academy
Forfar Farmington 0
Celtic began their 2017 summer season with a straightforward win against their Angus opponents with starting places for their three close-season signings Sarah Crilly, Sarah Ewens and Kelsey Hodges.
Although the Hoops had very much the lion’s share of possession, only a Natalie Ross strike after 19 minutes separated the teams at the end.
The home team looked as if they couldn’t wait to get started, and opened the match with enthusiasm and pace, passing the ball quickly and using the pitch well.
In spite of almost permanent possession of the ball for the first 10 minutes, they only had two corners and a free kick on the edge of the box to show for their superiority. There was also a lofted, left-footed lob from Sarah Crilly which did not trouble keeper McNicoll in the Forfar goal.
Heather Richards was first to have an attempt on goal when she stuck a shot just wide of the goal after nine minutes. The breakthrough came after 19 minutes when, after good work on the right between Ross and Ruesha Littlejohn, the latter produced a fine cut-back which Ross fired into the net. Shortly afterwards Ewens was through on goal, but an extremely brave dive at her feet by McNicoll thwarted her.
For the remainder of the first half, the Hoops continued to dictate the tempo and pattern of play, with Ross in central midfield involved in almost every move. Megan Cunningham, the Celtic goalkeeper, was involved only sporadically, with her feet in action more than her hands, dealing mainly with pass-backs.
The Celtic defence of Georgie Rafferty, Courtney Whyte, Ellis Dalgliesh and Kelsey Hodges were switching positions from time to time, but the compact nature of Forfar’s set-up was not allowing them to build profitably from the back.
Attackers Crilly and Ewens were working hard and varying their play but were unable to create openings which might have led to a second goal.
The beginning of the second period saw the Hoops regaining their original tempo, but gradually Forfar began to settle on the ball and enjoy a greater share of the possession, and after 53 minutes Rafferty had to look lively to foil a Forfar counter-attack.
The frustration for Celtic was that they were unable to test the Farmington keeper, although 35 minutes into the half McNicoll once again made another outstanding stop, this time at the feet of Littlejohn.
Celtic introduced Maddie Fulton and Jamie-Lee Napier perhaps to change the focus of the attack, and for a time space was found down the right wing, and some dangerous crosses and corners resulted, but there was not to be a second goal for the Hoops.
The final score line would be a disappointment for Celtic, given the amount of time they had on the ball, but the match will have shown the coaching staff which areas need attention.
It was a pleasure to see Maddie Fulton back in the Hoops after a long spell on the sidelines with a serious knee injury. The combative midfielder was immediately in the thick of things, and her two crunching tackles late in the game showed that she has full confidence in her fitness.
Manager David Haley said: “The result was, and always will be, the most important thing in any competitive game.
“We would have loved to have passed the ball quicker and with a bit more quality but it just wasn't to be. We created a number of chances and shots at goal but overall Forfar defended well and made it difficult for us. The one goal of the game was a fantastic finish, but despite our best efforts we couldn't get more goals.
“We look forward to the next competitive games in March with the beginning of the Premier League and we know we have some things to work on before the start of the league.”
Skipper Kelly Clark said: “The aim was to start building momentum before the league begins in a couple of weeks and to get ourselves into the draw for the next round of this cup and we've managed both.
“The game was frustrating for us. We tried to play football and at times the final ball just wasn't to the best of our ability and Forfar defended well. We never felt threatened at the back and gave the Forfar attackers little to play with.”
Kelsey Hodges, newly arrived from Texas, added: “I thought it was a good start to the season to come out with the win. It's what we wanted to do.
“We obviously wanted to come away with more than one goal but we got the job done. I thought we played solidly at the back and it gave us good momentum going into the league games in a few weeks.”
Celtic: Cunningham, Hodges, Rafferty, Whyte, Clark, Ross, Richards, Crilly, Dalgliesh, Littlejohn, Ewens
Subs: Gibson, McBrearty, Fulton, McDonald-Nguah, Fitzsimmons, Cameron, Napier.
Reported by Celtic FC
Picture: Celtic FC