The University of St Andrews women’s football first team had little to play for heading into their final game of the regular season against the University of Stirling last week. The team sat third in the table on 15 points from nine games, six points clear of Glasgow in fourth but six points behind Stirling, who had one game against Edinburgh remaining. Stirling, however, could have feasibly won the title with a big win against St Andrews and a win over Robert Gordon in the last game of the season.
Thus, the team started the game with real intent. A Stirling winger capitalised on a loose pass from a Saints defender, driving onto the byline before squaring the ball to her teammate, who had an easy finish. One minute in, Stirling was up 1-0.
Stirling’s play was purposeful and controlled in the opening 20 minutes, with some excellent passing allowing Stirling to create numerous chances. Several shots were just inches wide of the Saints goal, and the away team hit the post and saw an effort cleared off the line after 17 minutes.
The early goal had clearly flustered some of the St Andrews players, but they seemed to have found a rhythm in the game when Stirling doubled its advantage. The Saints goalkeeper, Sophie Loch, failed to get enough distance on her goal kick, and the Stirling striker was able to finish with aplomb into the centre of the goal. Loch redeemed herself with a good save soon after, but she would still concede another two before the break.
The third, however, she could do nothing about. A Stirling player hit a lovely curling finish into the top left corner, but she was arguably at fault for the fourth. Stirling had put in several great crosses during the first half, but Loch failed to claim the ball and the Stirling striker was left unmarked to head home. Stirling was doing well with a four goal lead at the break, but St Andrews definitely had room for improvement.
The team was too open, meaning whenever mistakes were made, Stirling was able to push forward and find openings at will. St Andrews women’s coach Graeme Hart was clearly disappointed in his side’s performance at the break. He gave players a firm team talk during the quick half-time interval.
It did not have the immediate impact he was hoping for, however, as Stirling added a fifth with just three minutes of the second period gone. A low cross from the left evaded the Saints keeper, and Stirling was able to fire into an empty net and they added another not long after to make it 6-0. Hart then introduced some substitutes and they really made a difference, offering some more intensity in midfield and seemingly helping to provide the link-up play that the Saints had been lacking in the opening period.
This led St Andrews to enjoy their best period of the game where they saw a lot more of the ball and were able to show some of their great flair and creativity. This culminated in St Andrews scoring their only goal of the game, and it certainly was a good one. The Saints got the ball in the midfield of the park and they were able to rapidly transition from defence to attack. Striker Ellie Olsen picked up the ball on the edge of the area and after taking a couple of touches was able to place an exquisite chip in the top left-hand corner of the net, giving the Stirling keeper, who had been largely untroubled throughout, no chance.
Sadly, though, that goal was as good as it got for the Saints, with the floodgates opening once more in the final fifteen minutes. Stirling got a free-kick on the edge of the area and whilst the initial delivery was cleared, the clearance only fell as far as the Stirling striker who fired home from 25 yards out to complete her hat-trick. That wasn’t it, though, as Stirling added another two in the final ten minutes, taking the score to 9-1, the first coming after a questionable penalty decision from the referee and the second being another long-range effort.
The result was St Andrews’ heaviest defeat of the season. It was a performance that neither the coach nor the players will be particularly pleased with, especially when that game was the last league game for several members of the squad. However, that game should not be the lasting memory of the season for the team, as they ended it with a third-place finish, five wins from their ten games and a positive goal difference.
This is an improvement on last year, when they finished 4th, and the performances throughout the season were considerably more impressive than in recent years, suggesting bright things are on the horizon for the University of St Andrews Women’s Football Club.