The Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) launched for its 14th season last month with the nation’s twelve best senior women’s sides set to fight it out for supremacy and top spot in the league table.
Kierran Allardice takes a look at each of the teams, and players to watch out for, as he savours what promises to be the best ever SWPL season in a blog for the Sport on Spec website.
Aberdeen made a promising start to their league campaign with two consecutive wins before suffering a narrow home defeat at the hands of reigning champions Glasgow City. The team from the north will be happy with that given they have also progressed to the semi-finals of the League Cup on Sunday 10 May when they will face Hibernian at Ainslie Park, Edinburgh. This weekend they have a fixture away to unbeaten Rangers in what will be another stern test of character and ability for the Dons as they square up against one of the early season pacesetters.
One to watch: Cassie Cowper – the 16-year-old defender has already got herself a place in the starting line-up for the senior side and featured in all six games of Scotland’s Under 17 qualifying campaign.
Celtic may find themselves struggling this season following a major reshuffling of the pack over the break and a number of their former players signing for rivals Hibernian and Glasgow City, but they’ll be hoping they can still finish higher than last season’s fifth place. After a 1-0 loss to Hibernian on the opening day of the season Celtic have bounced back with wins in the league and cup against Stirling University and Hearts that have seen them climb to third place in the league and secure a place in the semi-finals of the League Cup.
One to watch: Ruesha Littlejohn – the deadly striker has returned to Celtic for a second spell, having previously played for the Glasgow side on loan in 2011. Littlejohn played for Liverpool before moving to Glasgow City for a couple of years then joined Norwegian side Sandviken last season. She also grabbed her second international goal for Ireland in the recent Cyprus Cup.
Forfar Farmington narrowly avoided facing the drop to the First Division last season as they finished just seven points ahead of relegated teams Queen’s Park and Buchan, and will be aiming to steer well clear of the relegation scrap this season. They are already looking more competitive having bounced back from consecutive league defeats to Spartans and Aberdeen by beating Inverness City 2-1 on the road last time out. Forfar are currently eighth in the league.
One to watch: Holly Napier – the newly appointed senior team vice-captain is just 19-years old and already has a wealth of experience having spent eight months in America until April last year. Having struggled with fitness following her return from America, the midfielder is back to her best and will be sure to receive a call-up to the national squad shortly.
Glasgow City remain the side to beat in the league and have flown the flag for Scotland in this year’s Uefa Women’s Champions League becoming the first Scottish women’s team to make it to the quarter-finals after they memorably knocked out FC Zurich 5-4 on aggregate in the last 16 before succumbing to French side Paris Saint-Germain. Now with their attention turned to domestic action City will be aiming for title number 10 this season, to make it nine consecutive years of winning the league. With two wins out of two so far and a place in the League Cup semi-finals against Celtic to look forward to, City are once again looking a formidable force to contend with.
One to watch: Julie Fleeting – the 34-year old striker may be approaching veteran status but having been the first Scottish professional when she signed for Washington Spirit and having spent nine years at Arsenal she brings a wealth of experience to the Glasgow side. Not to mention her impressive international tally of 116 goals in 121 caps.
Hamilton Acadamical had a fantastic end to last season, as despite finding themselves competing in the bottom half of the split they ended the season with more points than both Aberdeen and Celtic who were in the top half of the split. However this season Accies have got off to the worst possible start, a 4-0 loss to Rangers on the opening day followed by a heavy defeat at Hibernian and a home loss to Hutchison Vale which has left Accies bottom of the league and the only team without a point so far. The Accies need to rediscover their 2014 form, and quickly, if they are not to face a long battle against relegation.
One to watch: Gillian Inglis – after Lynsey Hogg’s departure at the end of last season a lot rests on the shoulders of the Accies striker. Can she step up to the plate and score the goals that will lead her team to safety?
Newly promoted Hearts will be aiming to do everything in their power to avoid being one of those sides that goes straight back down after reaching the top tier of the domestic game. Early results showed signs of promise, a narrow 1-0 loss at Aberdeen followed by a 1-1 draw with Inverness City, however last time out Celtic served up a reminder of the challenge that is competing in the Premier League when they dished out a 7-1 drubbing. How Hearts react will be key and the pressure is on ahead of their next match, a home encounter against Edinburgh rivals Hibernian.
One to watch: Gemma Mason – having come through the ranks at Hearts and a star in their Under-17s team, Mason now finds herself pushing for a place in the first team. This could be her breakthrough season.
Hibernian finished the 2014 season in third spot, level on points with Rangers only to miss out on the runners-up spot due to an inferior goal difference. But having made some important signings and strengthened the team in the lead up to the new season confidence is high amongst the Hibernian players, and they’ll want to go at least one, if not two, places better this season as they challenge for the title. Hibs have got off to the best possible start, currently top of the table, after a a 1-0 win over Celtic on the opening day followed by comprehensive wins over Hamilton and Stirling University.
One to watch: Abigail Harrison – one of Hibernian’s newest recruits when they signed her from Celtic before the start of the season. The Scotland Under-19 international grabbed two goals against Poland in the European Championships qualifying. Her captain, Joelle Murray, thinks Abigail could be Hibs star player this season and as the league’s top goal scorer so far, with 5 goals in 3 matches, that prediction looks spot on.
Hutchison Vale have a job on their hands to maintain their Premier League status this season after struggling during the 2014 campaign. But early signs have been encouraging, Vale having refused to buckle after what could have been a demoralising 5-0 home defeat to champions Glasgow City on the opening day of the season. Since then Vale have lost out in a tight match away to Rangers, before securing an impressive 4-1 win over Hamilton Academical at New Douglas Park that sees them in mid-table at present.
One to watch: Rachel Walkinshaw – one of the newest member’s of the Vale squad having joined from Hibernian ahead of this season, Walkinshaw brings a wealth of experience and talent to the squad having already represented Scotland at U15, U17 and U19 level.
Inverness City had a positive first season in the Premier League last year when they finished comfortably ahead of the relegation places, having been promoted at the beginning of 2014. They will look to build on that this season by aiming for at least a mid-table finish. But without a win in their opening two fixtures courtesy of 1-1 draws with newly promoted Hearts and Stirling University, and after a home loss to Forfar Farmington last time out, City need to find the winning habit and soon if they are not to be drawn into a scrap to avoid relegation.
One to watch: Veronika Klechova – the Slovakian international attacking midfielder will look to use her wealth of international experience to steer City up the league.
Rangers Runners-up last season Rangers will be aiming to go one better this season as they try to to topple champions Glasgow City and finish top of the league come the autumn. The Glasgow outfit have had a great start to the season opening up with 4-0 and 1-0 victories over Hamilton Academical, Hutchison Vale and Spartans. Undefeated and currently second in the league (Hibernian are top on goal difference) next up for Rangers it’s a home match against Aberdeen. Meanwhile a date for the diary: Sunday 28 June, Glasgow City v Rangers. Not to be missed!
One to watch: Natalie Ross (pictured above) – in form and catching the eye the ex-Arsenal starlet, 25, could be the player to lead Rangers to the title this season. Named captain for the 2015 campaign by manager Kevin Murphy, Ross has scored in Rangers’ last two games and has just been voted the SWPL Player of the Month for March by her fellow players in the league.
Spartans finished in a respectable fourth place last term but will be striving to do even better this time round. Having made a great start to the season with a 5-0 victory over Forfar Farmington they’ll have been disappointed with a subsequent 4-0 reverse at home to Rangers. Mid-table after two matches, next up for Spartans is a true test of how far they can go this season as they visit Glasgow City next Wednesday in a match that was initially postponed due to City’s involvement in the Champions League.
One to watch: Christie Kerr – big things are expected of this talented youngster in her first full season with Spartans, having moved up north after plying her trade last year with Watford Ladies.
Stirling University are a club still finding their feet in the Premier League having only come into existence in 2014. The first student side to compete in the top flight in British senior women’s football, the team was created through a partnership with Falkirk Ladies and aims to produce exciting young talent for years to come. Having drawn 1-1 away to Inverness City in their opening match, Stirling have since suffered defeats against Celtic and Hibernian. But with a team of bright young players, many offered support as part of the University’s highly successful International Sports Scholarship Programme, they’ll remain confident of proving themselves in the top tier of Scottish women’s football.
One to watch: Team captain and former Premier League Player of the Year, Emma Lyons, picked out goalkeeper Chloe Logan as her player to watch this season. The 18-year old conceded just one goal in four games during qualifying for the Under 19 European Championships with Scotland.
So there you have it … all to play for! We look forward to profiling action in both the Premier League and cup competitions this year as part of our coverage of Scottish women’s football. Check out our Events! page for matches coming up in the next 7 days and for a weekly update direct to your inbox make sure you subscribe (for free!) to our weekly newsletter.
You can follow Kierran Allardice on Twitter @Kierran_A20