Celtic Women lose out in top-of-the-table clash….
Report and Picture: Celtic FC
(McLaughlin 24 & 46, Harrison 85)
Despite a fine, spirited performance, Celtic’s table-top battle with Hibernian ended in defeat. The Hoops’ determination and high-tempo approach knocked Hibs out of their usual rhythm, but they were unable to convert this into goals, with Nicole Pullar’s second-half goal insufficient to prevent Hibs winning 3-1.
Celtic’s intentions were clear from early on as they pounced on every loose ball and harried the Hibs players as soon as they gained possession. They also showed an attacking appetite when, after only five minutes they had won a corner and a net-bound Rachel Donaldson shot from 25 yards had to be tipped over the crossbar by keeper, Fife.
Natalie Ross and Heather Richards in central-midfield were very much to the fore in the opening exchanges and Pullar and Sarah Ewens were showing great appetite in attack.
The game was punctuated by a number of free kicks, which prevented a free-flowing game, and also presented Hibs with their two best opportunities, both coming from Emma Brownlie free kicks. The first was ably dealt with by Celtic goalkeeper, Kiera Gibson and the second resulted in a shot at goal, again saved by Gibson.
Celtic’s early goal-threat had lessened, as Hibs began to put together some passing movements and the Hoops’ centre-backs, Georgie Rafferty and Cheryl McCulloch had to look lively on several occasions. McCulloch in particular caught the eye with her cool demeanour and accurate distribution.
Unsurprisingly, the opening goal came following a free kick, which was awarded to Hibs in 24 minutes. Another Brownlie delivery was headed across goal from the back post allowing McLaughlin a tap-in to give the Edinburgh team the lead.
For a spell after this, Hibs had slightly the better of exchanges, with Gibson much the busier of the goalkeepers. Natalie Ross, through her tenacity, had a shot on target in 31 minutes, but the closest to a second goal came at the other end.
Just five minutes before the break, Hibs had three shots in quick succession from close-in blocked by defenders and goalkeeper before the danger was cleared.
Celtic reappeared after the interval pleased with their showing and confident that they could gain something from the match.
Their hopes suffered a severe setback after only a minute when McLaughlin beat the Celtic defence and scored from distance.
However, this had a galvanising effect on Celtic and they responded with vigour and scored within six minutes. A determined run into the penalty area by full back Keeva Keenan was foiled at the last moment by keeper Fife, but the ball was deflected high into the air and headed into the net by Pullar.
Hibs, who had begun the second half confidently on the back of their early goal, were now knocked completely off their stride and Celtic pressed hard for an equaliser.
Ross was central to almost all of Celtic’s work as she raised her game to a very high level. Left-back, Colette Cavanagh was also a prominent attacker for the Hoops as she put in a real attacking effort.
The best chance for Celtic came in 64 minutes when Pullar headed the ball over the advancing goalkeeper only to see the ball cleared from the line. Ewens latched on to the block, but her shot also was cleared on the goal line.
As the game moved into the latter stages, neither team could claim ascendancy although Hibs won a series of corners in the dying minutes. From one of these corners in the 85th minute, Harrison fired a shot into the far corner to seal the points for Hibs.
Celtic were naturally disappointed with the final outcome, but can take pride in their performance.
Top Celts were keeper Kiera Gibson, Colette Cavanagh for her brave battling, striker Nicole Pullar who was a constant nuisance to Hibs, and Player of the Match, Natalie Ross who was outstanding throughout.
Celtic: Gibson, Keenan, Rafferty, McCulloch, Cavanagh, Richards, Adams, Ross, Pullar, Donaldson, Ewens (Giard). Subs not used Connor, O’Neill, Cairney.