Spartans Women 2, Hibernian Women 2

Wednesday, August 26:
THE very first women’s fixture to be played on the magnificent stadium pitch at Spartans Community Football Academy in Ainslie Park was the type of game that gave everyone privileged to watch it taking place the feeling they had been present at a brilliant football match. There is no description other than that to describe this game, played under the superb floodlights at this totally new, civilised football facility in the Capital of Scotland.

Hibernian are impressively coached by Jimmy Burns and they came in to this game unbeaten so far this season. This multi-talented squad of players kicked off as if they were going to play Spartans off the park, using the full width of the pitch to attack the home goal in a tremendous opening burst. The football was absolutely brilliant to watch and the influence of their trerrific coach was obvious from the opening whistle from match referee Mathilde Pearce, who was another of the star performers in this game and she, too, contributed to this magnificent spectacle with her superb control, decisions and fitness.

The play following the kick-off was mostly in the home goalmouth and Claire Crosbie, standing in for Spartans injured goalie, Jo Hutcheson, was outstanding in saving shots, blocking other net-bound efforts and punching the ball away when crosses came over in to the home goalmouth. Hibernian swarmed all over the pitch, switching the ball from wing to wing and the standard of football from this women’s side was breathtaking. Spartans have made an uncertain start to the season but this was the game they needed to find their true form. And as the first half progressed, the incredible Debbie McWhinnie and her fellow attacker, Diana Barry, started to cause problems for the Hibernian defence. The visiting side had a wonderful central defender in Holly Thomson, but all the players in the green and white jerseys looked to be a real class act. The moves kept on coming in this game with Spartans contributing more and more, taking the game to the visiting end and the goalmouth action was simply marvellous to watch. Possibly, not for the respective coaches, however! It was real nail-biting stuff but Hibernian went on to make the breakthrough when the industrious Kirsty McBride - another smashing footballer - was sent tumbling in the box as she homed in on the left-side of the Spartans goal. The referee was right up with play and she pointed immediately to the spot. Stacey Cook it was who stuck the ball in the back of the net from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute to give Hibernian a 1-0 lead at the break.

Depending on what side the fans supported, it was a deserved/not deserved lead. It was that close. The game needed a goal and the penalty conversion made the second half in to a tremendous contest. Diana Barry equalised when a wonderful free-kick from away out on to left was palmed backwards by the Hibernian keeper towards the back post. In the ensuing goalmouth scramble the ball landed back across goal and the Spartans international striker put it in the net at the left-hand post to make it 1-1.

That was in the 77th minute of this classic game of women’s football. The magnificent Spartans No 5, Shelley Kerr, then set up a move up the left and the ball was played through to Louise Young - yet another star - but her well-hit shot went wide of the goal. Then Debbie McWhinnie was sent crashing in a run in to the Hibernian box but the referee was right up with play and she waved play on to the accompaniment of howls of protest from the Spartans fans in the lovely stand at this venue. It looked to be a stonewaller of a penalty, but the referee was perfectly placed to judge. The pulsating action continued and all hell broke loose when Spartans were rewarded for their stunning efforts when a cross ball from the left was headed up in the air from the pack of players in front of the Hibernian goal and it somehow landed in the back of the net at the right-hand post. It was given as an OG but they all count and that put Spartans 2-1 in front with seven minutes left to play. Two minutes later, it was 2-2 and what a goal it was from Alana Marshall who cut in from the left to create space for herself in the 18yd box and she unleashed a screamer of a shot in to the Spartans net, which gave Claire Crosbie no chance of saving. The remaining minutes of this game were played at frantic pace but the final whistle went with the scoreline still at 2-2. Last season, Spartans hammered Hibernian on the FieldTurf pitch and team spokesman, Carson Ralton, said: “We (Spartans) knew Hibernian would be up for this game. They were hurt last season and they wanted revenge for that heavy defeat. It was a great game and I am delighted for our side. We have had a bad run of injuries to contend with, but we played very well against a very good Hibernian side.” While the visitors played quick, accurate passing and used the big pitch to full advantage, Spartans tactics were to get the ball up to McWhinnie and Barry for them to use their pace to attack the Hibernian rearguard. It was a fantastic game to watch and all the praise should go to the respective coaches, players and match officials. There were great individual performances on both sides on another great night for football at Ainslie Park.

Spartans - Claire Crosbie, Siobhan Rooney, Shelley Kerr, Danni Pagliarulo, Hayler Lauder, Stacey McLean, Diana Barry, Molly McKean, Sarah Archibald, Trisha McLaughlin, Louise Young, Louise Moultray, Julie Smith, DanI Stewart.

Hibernian - Lucy Cook, Ashley Watson, Rhonda Jones, Stacey Cook, Frankie Brown, Suzanne Robertson, Holly Thomson, Amanda Burns, Kirsty McBride, Alana Marshall, Laura Kennedy, Lisa Robertson, Viki Whitelaw, Hayley Cunningham, Joelle Murray.

Referee - Mathilde Pearce.

Report - Ian Mackay