South East have dominated the Schools' Inter Regional Cup over the past decade and they lived up to their tag as favourites with a 5-0 demolition of Central in the final at Toryglen. Kirsty Morrison’s opener and a Naomi Welch double gave them a comfortable three goal lead at half-time and they didn’t take their foot off the gas in the second half, Morrison grabbing her second and defender Tara McGonigle rounding off a fine performance with the fifth.
As well as being a competition in its own right, the cup is about finding players to move on to the Scotland squad and there is no doubt the watching SSFA members will have been highly impressed with a string of South East girls.
Yet it was an inauspicious start from both sides. Neither team could hold on to the ball and they struggled to create any meaningful chances in the opening ten minutes. Central had Zoe Young to thank for breaking up a neat bit of play between Elena Montoya-Brown, Morrison and Welch, while South East goalkeeper Ema Ravuravunisali made a comfortable save from Jemma Marriott’s long range drive, in an otherwise scrappy start.
Gabby Anderson made some space in the Central box with a neat turn but she was unable to get past Leah Eddie, and then moments later Anderson was on the end of a deep cross from Montoya-Brown but failed to connect properly as South East began to take control and keep Central camped in their own half.
The Central backline was holding firm though and with keeper Claire Whitaker untroubled in the early stages, you felt like it would take a piece of magic or perhaps a mistake to unlock the defence.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a slice of bad luck for Central. Morrison was quick to pounce on a slack pass at the back and showed great composure to take the ball round Whitaker and roll it into the empty net to give South East the lead.
It was just what South East needed and proved their coach correct in starting with two up front. Although Central had an extra player in midfield due to their 4-5-1 setup, the pressure the two South East forwards were putting on the back line stopped Central from being able to play out of defence and take advantage of their numerical superiority in the middle.
South East almost got their second by going route one. Nicole Jamieson’s terrific through ball from the back completely took out the opposition midfield and defence and only some quick thinking from Whitaker prevented Welch from getting on the end of it.
There was never any question of Central giving up on this game after going a goal down and Lauren Davidson’s hard work almost paid off when she dispossessed a central defender and bore down on goal, only for Tara McGonigle to get across and provide a superb covering tackle.
While Central may have had the extra player in midfield, what they didn’t have was Kirstie McIntosh and the South East captain showed her quality with two assists in the space of 7 minutes - both to her club teammate Naomi Welch.
The first was a goal of supreme quality from start to finish. McIntosh’s perfectly weighted through ball was only bettered by Welch’s inch-perfect lobbed finish. Whitaker could only watch as it sailed over her head and into the back of the net.
McIntosh tried to get in amongst the goals herself with a 30-yard drive that Whitaker ushered just by her left-hand post, but got back to what she does best with another assist. This time it was a one-two with Welch down the left channel before the striker finished low past the keeper for 3-0.
Welch should have claimed the match ball before the break but twice was stopped by strong defending from Young.
Laura McCartney’s hard work down the right almost paid off in creating a chance for Central forward Lauren Davidson who had been isolated for most of the half with her side unable to get forward in numbers, but she was forced to settle for a corner which came to nothing.
If McIntosh was South East’s craft and guile in the centre of the park, Michaela McElonie was their dynamo. Full of strong, surging runs from the middle of the pitch down the right hand side, she opened play up and dragged Central players all over the place. After beating three players she pulled the ball back from the byline to Morrison who showed great awareness to take the ball on the turn and lay it off to Welch but her shot was saved well by Whitaker. The hat-trick was not to be.