On Wednesday 29 March, the St Andrews women’s football first XI crashed out of the Scottish Student Sport Cup semi-finals. Despite reaching the quarter-finals of the BUCS trophy and being in the division above its opponents, St Andrews lost out to Aberdeen in a frantic match that finished 4-1 to the visitors.
A closer look at Aberdeen’s form shows that it is the cup specialist, having already won the Scottish Conference Cup and only just missing out on promotion.
St Andrews had booked its passage to the semi-finals in emphatic style. The team faced a trip to local rival Dundee in the first round of the competition but were unfazed, winning 5-1. This was followed by the most emphatic performance in the entire competition, with St Andrews once again winning away by putting 15 past City of Glasgow College.
Aberdeen had only played one game in the tournament prior to the semi-finals – a 7-0 home win over Queen Margaret University in the first round. This was because Strathclyde University was unable to field a team in its quarter – final, meaning Aberdeen went through with a bye.
Nevertheless, St Andrews will feel disappointed it could not make home advantage count, with family and friends coming out to support the team in drizzle and fog.
From the first whistle, it was clear that both teams were keen for a competitive affair. The first 20 minutes were lacking in chances but full of excellent individual battles. St Andrews was set up in a 4-4-2, eager to utilise the pace of number 10 Ellie Olsen up top and the wings. In defence, the Saints did not allow Aberdeen time to keep possession, with Ashley Streit expertly marshalling the back four. However, the team’s willingness to play out from the back initially gave several half-chances to Aberdeen. These did not amount to anything, but they were warnings signs.
It was only going to take a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock, and this moment unfortunately came for Aberdeen. A clever flick from the striker played her partner through; she fired the ball into the top corner, rendering the keeper a bystander.
The chance came from the Saints’ inability to properly clear the ball, yet the players did not let this goal dishearten them. Straight away, St Andrews came charging back at Aberdeen with a set piece leading to the first real shot in anger. They team did not let their heads drop, but Aberdeen’s number seven undermined the Saints’ attempt to get back into the game as she nullified attacks whenever danger appeared.
With about 10 minutes left until half-time, disaster struck. Having won a corner, Aberdeen floated it over the keeper to the back-post. A scramble ensued, and the ball ended up in the back of the net. St Andrews had been warned of Aberdeen’s threat from corners earlier in the half, where they allowed them a free header.
Now 2-0 down and with half-time looming, the game became more open as the Saints desperately tried to get a goal back before the break. They nearly did so: a ball was crossed in from the wings to an open Olsen, but she was unable to make a solid contact. Had that chance been converted, the result may have been very different.
Half-time followed, and with that came a change of system to a 4-3-3 in a bold attacking move by coach Graeme Hart to try and get back into the game and save the team’s cup hopes for the season. Much like the first half, the opening minutes were scrappy. Sophia Russo and Katie Nelson battled with Aberdeen’s number eight for possession.
However, Aberdeen started finding opportunities: the team had a shot over the bar after breaking several tackles and had a goal disallowed from another corner after the ball was judged to have gone out of play before curling back in.
While the Saints were putting Aberdeen under pressure, they could not convert their chances and were vulnerable to the quick break, in particular from number 13. A ball from her went into the St Andrews box and forced a strong save from the keeper to make sure the Saints were still in the match.
As the game entered the last 20 minutes, more changes followed. St Andrews switched to a back three and introduced rapid number eight Karina Lukovits. Finally, a goal came for the Saints. They were awarded a free-kick around 25 yards out. Number nine Alison Lightfoot put her last name to shame as she fired a howitzer into the back of the net. Instilled with a renewed sense of hope, the Saints had time to grab an equaliser.
Unfortunately, immediately after pulling one back, they conceded their third, which ultimately put the game to bed. With legs tiring and Aberdeen full of confidence, a fourth goal late on finished them off. Number 13 again crossed from the far side, where the ball was then squared before a cool finish into the top corner. Aberdeen will now go on to play the winner of the semi-final between the University of Stirling and the University of Edinburgh.
The scoreline does not do justice to St Andrews’ performance in the game, but with this loss the team’s competitive season draws to a close. With some players graduating in the summer, next season promises to feature change. The basis, however, is in place for continued progress.