Match report by Stuart Mitchell and photo by Alan Wilson.
Heart of Midlothian made it two SWPL Cup victories in a week in Group C, but were made to battle to break down a steely Stirling University side from SWPL 2.
Hearts started to take control of the game with a mistake in midfield from the visitors almost gifting the home side a clear opportunity, but the Edinburgh side were unable to capitalise.
Louise McDaniel had the first clear chance with the ball dropping to her at the backpost, but Stirling Uni prevented her from converting and that was to be a taste of things to come throughout the ninety minutes.
After the tenth minute, the away side gave the Jambos something to think about as Naomi Welch drove down the right wing and delivered a crisp cross for Shana Macphail. She connected with a glancing header, but it bounced just wide of the far post.
McDaniel was at the centre of attack after attack that resulted in continuous corners, but still Hearts couldn’t clearly threaten Jennifer Godfrey in goal.
With only just over 15 minutes played, the home side were forced into their first change with Ellis Dalgliesh unable to continue and replaced by Claire Delworth at left back.
It was the other side of the pitch where the next chance would be created. Claire Williamson crossed after good link-up down the right hand side, it was cleared only as far as Aisha Maughan, but the wingers volley was blocked by a disciplined Stirling defence.
Approaching the midway point of the first half, Siobhan Higgins tried to break through the back line, and won the first of another succession of corners, but the penalty area was defended bravely from each delivery.
Maughan produced a perfect through ball for Delworth to run onto, with the substitute opting for a shot from distance that she sent well wide of goal.
With over half an hour played, Godfrey in the away goal was hurt. After receiving lengthy treatment, the signal was made that a change was required. Both elevens made use of the stoppage to gather and motivate, with the delay allowing the goalkeeper to make a recovery, but she still did not look fully comfortable despite continuing.
It wasn’t all defending for the visitors. With ten minutes to go until half-time, Macphail and Robin Gallacher tried their best to carve a chance, before Eva Rule came close to supplying an attempt on goal. Welch then danced along the edge of the penalty area, before the loose ball broke to Emma Lyons, with the Stirling Uni captain striking over the bar.
Only a couple of minutes before the break, Hearts made the break-through. Delworth crossed right footed from deep on the left side. The ball bounced on the edge of the area before Maughan took control, turning, and crashing a cracker off the crossbar, and there was Lisa Swanson in the right place to blast the ball into the net, and put the home side in front from the rebound.
Almost immediately, as the first half moved into stoppage time, Swanson received a beautiful lob over the defence and smashed a volley from point blank range. The crowd, looking on, certain she would make it two, but Godfrey, playing through injury, diverted it superbly over the bar. It was to be the shot-stoppers final act, as she had to be replaced moments after.
Maughan tested Stirling’s stand-in sub goalkeeper in the final attack of the first half, sending a dangerous attempt towards the back post, but the replacement between the sticks clutched it out of the air comfortably. Hearts went into half-time one nil in front.
At the start of the second period, Kevin Murphy’s side were looking to add to the scoresheet as soon as possible.
McDaniel providing a terrific pass through the lines for Jennifer Smith with her shot flashing across the face of goal.
The corner count continued in the second half when a Williamson and McDaniel attack was defended stoutly. The delivery was over the top of the waiting attackers, but the clearance fell to Mariel Kaney who lifted her attempt high and over.
McDaniel and Higgins were substituted just before the hour mark, with Taylor Hamill and Louise Mason entering the match.
Mason’s impact, almost instant, as she raced through the visitors back line to setup Maughan, with yet another attempt charged down. Mason then had a chance herself, after some tidy passing with Swanson, but the former dragged her shot wide of the left post from the edge of the six yard box.
A second looked certain for the Jam Tarts, when Maughan again, in a terrific position behind the defence, placed an effort beyond the replacement goalkeeper, but the determined defence on cue again as Rebecca Hellgren rushed back to the goal line to stop the ball creeping over. The home side just couldn’t find a way to add to Swanson’s earlier strike.
As the final period approached, spectators commented on the away side’s continued admirable defence, but Craig Beveridge’s players were growing in confidence and looked to pose a threat to Hearts, with Gemma Mason and Robin Gallacher supplying Macphail, but her curler was held by Charlotte Parker-Smith, but that wasn’t the only time they would advance towards the goalkeepers penalty area.
With Hearts pressing to increase their lead, Stirling were finding spaces on the counter. Emma Lyons was inches away from playing a dangerous reverse pass to Gallacher which Parker-Smith swept up, and moments after, miscommunication between Murron Cunningham and the Hearts goalie meant a backpass almost caused trouble.
It felt as if the visitors were a final pass away from a clear-cut opportunity with Gallacher and Welch posing a threat before Mason in maroon watched her drive go wide of the post at the other end.
Gallacher whipped a ball over to the right, and Eva Rule was released. Advancing into the penalty area, Parker-Smith came out to narrow the angle and the forwards strike saved well by the keeper.
Chelsea McEachran and Mason both stabbed efforts wide and Courtney White tried to get an additional Hearts goal from long range before the home goalkeeper had to save a final opportunity from the guests.
McEachran crashed another chance against the crossbar in the closing stages, but Taylor Hamill wrapped the cup points up for the Jam Tarts with her beautiful finish beating the Stirling stand-in and Hearts had their second after a number of patient attacks.
The win putting Gorgie side top of Group C with six points from three matches played, while Stirling remain on three points from two games, with their match-up with Aberdeen yet to be re-arranged.
Heart of Midlothian: Parker-Smith, Whyte, Cunningham, Smith, Kaney (c), McDaniel, Swanson, Williamson, Dalgliesh, Higgins, Maughan Subs: Mutch, Delworth, Hunter, Hamill, L. Mason, McEachran
Stirling University: Godfrey, Murphy, Jones, G.Mason, Macphail, Lyons, Welch, Gallacher, Hellgren, Gullan, Rule Subs: Bonner, Blues, Kerr, Kerl