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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Sport
James Cairney

Celtic 2 Rangers 0: Alonso's side lift Scottish Cup on historic day at Hampden

Celtic secured the final silverware of the season as a 2-0 triumph over rivals Rangers ensured Fran Alonso’s side retained the Scottish Cup.

This was the first time that the women’s final had been played at Hampden and the occasion will live long in the memory for Celtic, who had Natasha Flint and Claire O’Riordan to thank for their second-half goals that decided the match.

Here are five things we learned from an historic day at the national stadium.

Past pain

Both teams came into this match with a point to prove after they each suffered heartbreak on that dramatic final day of the SWPL season a week ago. Celtic were bidding to retain their Scottish Cup crown and avoid a trophyless season, while Rangers were looking to follow up on their Sky Sports Cup success – and give departing manager Malky Thomson a fitting send-off.

It was a rather cagey beginning at Hampden as both teams shifted the ball around patiently, looking for gaps to expose in their opponents’ defence. The large pitch at the national stadium took a little getting used to, too, as did the grass surface, given these teams play most of their football on Astroturf.

It was a pretty slow start – the sort of game that really needed a goal to get things going. In the end, we got two in quick succession that left Celtic in a commanding position and it proved too great a mountain for Rangers to climb.

Both Celtic and Rangers had some demons to exercise from last week’s disappointment – and in the end, it was the former that managed to do just that.

Slow burner

Celtic were brave on the ball, playing out from the pack in almost dogmatic fashion, but to their credit they never looked especially flustered by Rangers’ high press. Caitlin Hayes, in particular, was unflappable on the ball, picking out her team-mates with apparent ease.

Further ahead, Jacynta was causing problems down the right wing, making the most of the space afforded to her and driving with menace towards the Rangers goal. The attacker was sometimes let down by her decision-making in the final third but there was no question that she looked like her side’s most obvious route to goal.

Rangers, meanwhile, opted for an aerial bombardment when attacking. Brogan Hay and Emma Watson were finding gaps on either flank and swinging in delivery after delivery, but the Celtic defence were holding firm and repelling them. When the half-time whistle rang out at Hampden, Celtic goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar hadn’t had a save to make.

Shen Mengyu spurred a glorious opportunity on the brink of the interval, doing well to rob centre-back Hannah Davison of the ball but the Celtic winger dragged her shot agonisingly wide of the far post.

Jacynta was next to fluff her lines, again dragging her shot wide of the far post after scarpering in behind the Rangers defence. But the attacker would soon make a telling contribution as Celtic opened up a two-goal lead.

Celtic’s set-piece prowess

Previous meetings between these two sides this term have been settled by Celtic’s set-piece prowess and Fran Alonso’s side were looking dangerous from dead-ball situations throughout this contest. It is a handy weapon that Celtic have in their attacking arsenal, and they weren’t shy about using it.

Jacynta fired a warning shot as early as the eighth minute, looping a corner in from the left that rattled the crossbar before going behind. The Australian’s next effort came even closer to breaking the deadlock, picking out a team-mate at the back post who headed it back across goal, but Flint couldn’t make sufficient contact to steer the ball home in a crowded six-yard box.

A succession of corners at the start of the second half, again from Jacynta, asked some awkward questions but to their credit, Rangers were able to repel the set-pieces, which were more often than not whipped in towards the back post.

When the breakthrough eventually arrived on 64 minutes, it was no surprise that it came from a corner. The delivery from Jacynta wasn’t adequately dealt with and although Chloe Craig’s initial shot was blocked, Flint was at hand to turn the ball in from close range.

A few minutes later and it was 2-0. Jacynta’s corner picked out O’Riordan at the near post, who looped her header over the despairing reach of Victoria Esson and into the back of the net.

VAR impact

This was the first domestic women’s match in Scotland with the all-seeing eye of VAR in play but for once, the technology was not the star of the show. The problems induced by the introduction of video referees on the men’s game are manifold and well-documented, but it was used sparingly at Hampden.

There were the usual groans and grumbles from the crowd when play would continue for 10 seconds or so after an offside pass as the linesman waited for the all-clear before raising his flag but other than that, VAR’s interference was minimal – until a huge decision was made with five minutes to go.

Rangers’ Laura Berry nipped in behind the Celtic defence and kept her composure to coolly slot the ball home, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for offside a minute or two later.

One small step for woman…

It wasn’t so long ago that the Women’s Cup final was being played at the likes of Broadwood, and here we are now at Hampden – a far more fitting venue for the country’s top domestic cup competition.

Both sides received vociferous backing from the stands with an attendance upwards of 10,446 – an increase from last year’s final at Tynecastle that had 4345 watching on – highlights the growth the women’s game has experienced in recent years.

The final day of the SWPL season drew crowds of over 10,000 and 15,000 at Ibrox and Celtic Park respectively and while there is still some way to go before we see those sort of figures on a regular basis, they unequivocally point towards an increase in interest in the women’s game.

The national stadium is simply purpose-built for occasions such as these, and it was refreshing to see the cup final being given the full treatment. Spectacular fireworks and pyrotechnics exploded into life as the two sets of players marched onto the park, generating a fantastic atmosphere in Mount Florida.

Celtic may have gone on to lift the Scottish Cup, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the women’s game in general was the big winner.

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