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Celts just miss out in tight Hibs contest

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Despite Celtic taking an early lead in Edinburgh, Hibs ran out 2-1 winners in a tightly contested battle.

Natalie Ross opened proceedings at Ainslie Park with her third in two games but Kirsten Reilly’s double before the break proved decisive in the combative clash.

A win or draw for Celtic would allow them to retain their top spot in the league and the Hoops made just one change from the side that beat Forfar Farmington 4-0. Winger Kodie Hay made way for defender Cheryl McCulloch in anticipation of the threat the hosts would produce. Attacker Sarah Ewens made her 50th appearance for the club, whilst the Hoops faced a Hibs side smarting from their opening day stalemate with Edinburgh rivals Spartans, with both sides’ attacking intent clear from the off. 

Celtic found the net in the first ten minutes as Ross continued her flying start to 2019. After industrious work down the left, a bright start paid dividends for Celtic. Keeva Keenan’s long throw down the line found the waiting Ewens, who shrugged off Joelle Murray to skim a low cross into Ross’ path, who powered the pass into the net with just seven minutes on the clock.

Hibs reacted swiftly and tested the Celtic defence immediately, and five minutes later it was nearly all square. Jamie-Lee Napier’s through ball drew Cunningham off her line allowing Kirsty Morrison in, a last-ditch challenge from Keenan was enough to allow Cunningham to recover and collect.

But the Celts couldn’t keep the hosts at bay and an equaliser found the net just seven minutes before the interval. After weathering the storm, Josi Giard’s foul in a dangerous position allowed ex-Celt Colette Cavanagh to whip in a free-kick from out wide and Reilly popped up to head past Cunningham.

Celtic looked to immediately respond and could have restored their lead as Ross pounced on a stray pass to drift inside and play Ewens in, but the flag rose against Celtic. On the stroke of half-time, Reilly secured the three points for Hibs, sending her free-kick on the edge of the area over the wall and across Cunningham’s goal into the top corner.

Hibs enjoyed a lot of the ball in the second half, but Celtic weren’t without their own opportunities. Eight minutes into the half, Giard’s protests were waved away after she went down on the edge of the 18-yard box, the German did well to drive inside from the right to play it back to Black, whose long-ball for Ross was collected by the onrushing Jenna Fife.

With an equaliser still in sight, Eddie Wolecki Black threw on a fresh attacking duo in the shape of Kathleen McGovern and Rachel Donaldson in a bid to introduce new speed and vision for the closing stages, but Celtic’s last real chance came from Keenan, whose free-kick just inside the Hibs half drifted wide on the 86th. While the frantic nature carried through into the dying embers, the game had been decided in the first half, with Celtic having pushed Hibs all the way.

Celtic now travel to Dundee United on Sunday 24 February in the first round of the SWPL Cup.

Celtic: Cunningham, Black, Keenan, McCulloch, Craig, Ross, McLaughlin (Donaldson, 79), Clark, Smart (McGovern,72), Ewens, Giard

Unused subs: Cairney, Crosbie, Hay, O’Neill


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