Hearts Women got their SWPL Cup campaign off to a flying start with a hard fought win over St Johnstone at Oriam.
Preparations were halted somewhat thanks to an unexpected delay to kick-off, but with an intense warm-up, the girls started the match sharply, and Georgia Hunter came close to opening the scoring from a Claire Delworth header, but her effort went over the bar from close range.
The bright start was rewarded on 8 minutes when another fine Delworth delivery bounced across the face of goal, and Lia Tweedie was there to nod the ball over the line to give Hearts a deserved lead. Hearts were well on top in the opening period and the impressive Delworth made space brilliantly for Aimee Anderson to run onto the ball. She flashed it across the face but it was well held.
The woodwork then came to St Johnstone’s rescue after half an hour, when another wicked Delworth delivery ran all the way to the back post, and a mixture of Hunter, Tegan Browning, and Amelie Birse forced the ball against the right-hand post and away.
St Johnstone did threaten briefly on the break before the interval when Morgan Steedman found space in the area, but her shot on the turn was tipped onto the post by Charlotte Parker-Smith, and Hearts cleared from the corner.
After the break, Hearts thought they’d doubled their lead when Tweedie volleyed home superbly from a Clare Williamson cross, but to her astonishment, the offside flag was raised to deny her a fine goal. Delworth then came close again with another set-piece from 35 yards that cracked off the crossbar, and St Johnstone desperately cleared Browning’s excellent hooked cross that followed.
St Johnstone pushed for a leveller, and Hearts naturally dropped deeper, but the visitors never threatened Parker-Smith seriously, and Hearts were able to see out time to record a victory and three points in the SWPL Group Stages.
Hearts: Parker-Smith; Delworth, Hunter, Browning, McKay (Cowan 77’); Anderson (Begg 77’), Tweedie (Kaney 58’), Williamson, Smith, Aitchison (Forsyth 58’); Birse. Subs not used: Rodgers, Davies, Taylor.
Assistant coach Paul Greig spoke to heartsfc.co.uk after the match: “We were happy to start the season off with a clean sheet and a win, and it was good to see things we’ve been working on come to fruition. We did let St Johnstone into the game, but we managed to ride the storm and see it out, which was pleasing. It was massive for the girls to see out a game, we said to the girls how many times have we seen a game out last season? The only negatives were that we let them get into the game more, but this time we’ve seen it over the line and that’ll help the girls massively. We know we have a different threat with Celtic to play next week, it’ll be a different aspect of the game that we need to focus on but we’ll put our best foot forward and see what we can do.”
Vice-captain Clare Williamson also spoke to heartsfc.co.uk after the match: “I think we controlled the game and created some good chances, we’re just disappointed to not turn the chances into goals but that’s something for us to improve on, and we saw the game out. It was important for our confidence to keep those 1-0 leads and hold on for wins, a lot of young girls in the team got a shock last season and maybe learned we need to grind out wins. I expect the game next week to be different, Celtic will be right on it but we gave them really good tests last season. We know Celtic, we know we’re the underdogs but we’ll go there and give it our best.”