Written by Mark Gordon
When the SWFL 2 North season kicks-off again, Stonehaven Ladies will look to pick up where they left off. Stoney went into the summer break off the back of a 13-0 victory at home against Buckie. That result left them level on points with Montrose, with just a single goal separating the sides.
Central-midfielder, Lisa Penny, says that her side are looking forward to getting back to the action. “We finished the first part of the season strongly so hopefully we can pick from where we finished off”, she said.
Manager Matt Smith has called his squad back slightly earlier than usual from their summer break as they try to go one better than their second placed finish last term. She added, “Winning the league was definitely the goal at the start of the season, so we’re pretty much where we wanted to be by the break”.
A sign perhaps of the feeling within the Stonehaven camp is the fact that, despite a near perfect record of eight wins and one defeat from their opening nine league games, the sole defeat still nags for Lisa. “It was just a bad day that one. It’s really annoying because there was no real reason for it, it just wasn’t happening and it’s frustrating that it’s the only one we haven’t won”.
There may be a concern that the team may lose the momentum they built up before the summer respite but Penny is confident that won’t be the case. “I think we’re all on the same page and have the same positive attitude to picking up where we left off”.
Stonehaven return with a home game against a Turriff United side that they have already beaten on the road this season. Despite their good record, 26-year-old Penny isn’t taking anything for granted. “It’s really close at the top but it isn’t just between us and Montrose, Moray are just three behind us and I expect it to be a really close finish between the three of us. Every game is important”.
A close finish to the campaign could set up a winner-takes-all game on the final day of the season. Stonehaven host Montrose on the final day but Lisa isn’t looking too far ahead. “It would obviously be a massive game but there is a lot to go before that, we just hope to continue our form and hopefully we’ll still be up there by the last game”.
Stonehaven came out on top when the top two met at Montrose earlier in the campaign, a result which confirmed to the Stoney players what they are capable of. “We knew our abilities because we finished second last season but beating Montrose definitely gave us a boost. I think they probably expected to beat us too which also showed how good a win it was”.
The Montrose result may have been a league highlight but Lisa feels the team’s run to the League Cup semi-final also helped them. “It can be a distraction the cup games because of the travelling and all that goes with it but our run to the semi was really helpful. We were playing teams of a really good level and just having to raise or game round by round helped us in terms of performance and confidence in our ability”.
Once the disappointment of the 3-2 loss to Keltie in the cup waned, the Stoney squad could take the positives of their run. “It was really disappointing when we lost. I was totally gutted. It’s the closest we’ve came in the nine years I’ve been here and it would’ve been brilliant to get to a final. We got over it pretty quickly though and with the help of the manager, we moved on.
“We’ve been lucky in that we’ve had a pretty consistent squad the past few seasons which gives Matt the chance to know his players. His style of management is really good in that he is able to mix the serious parts with fun. It’s important all the girls are enjoying training and being at the club. Matt totally gets that and is good at getting the balance right to give us the opportunity to perform but also enjoy it”.
Manager Smith has overseen a change of fortunes since taking over in May 2016, but he is still keen to embrace the ‘small-town’ club title. He said, “We know we are still a small club from a small town but we are fiercely proud of that title. We take that pride onto the pitch for each and every match. We’ve gone from being a small-town club with players who came together to enjoy a kick-about, who are now competing at the top end of Division Two”.
A large part of that success is down to consistency of selection and the low turn-over of players speaks to the atmosphere Smith has created at the club. “My number two Kenny and I instil in new players the importance of player unity both on and off the pitch, which we feel has worked very well”.
Looking ahead to the final stages of the campaign, Smith is very clear on what he believes his team can achieve. “Our sole aim is to win every remaining league game and should we do that, we will walk away as champions. The league is a three horse race this season, the task is going to be difficult but we know our fate is in our own hands”.
The second half of the season may well be an exciting one for Stonehaven but Penny can also see a bright future for the club beyond this campaign. She concluded, “We’re linking up now with under-13 and under-15 teams, so hopefully we can develop that link and bring through young players so the club have a more stable future on the pitch”.
Stonehaven look to pick up where they left off in the league when they get back in action on Sunday 5th August at home to Turriff United.