Rangers victory in the Under 15s final was deserved, although ultimately a tougher contest than the early exchanges indicated. As initial pressure evaporated, and Hibs found a previously absent cohesion, attrition as much as tactics came to the fore.
Whilst the first half ended goalless, possession and territory were primarily with the Glaswegians. It was control built upon midfield, where they owned superior numbers, shape, and consequently options. Hannah Robinson, Kirsty MacLean and Hannah Jordan rotated around and across the centre, ensuring each ball player had not only support, but choice.
For Hibs, the formation was stretched. Wide players Lalita Hirani and Mya Bates operated towards the touchline, leaving central midfielders Phoebe Friend and Emma Mitchell against three opponents - four if a striker dropped deep - which tempted them to fall further towards their centre backs.
The midfield and defence were so close, frequently no further than 25 yards from their own goal, which made the defence tighter but possession difficult to hold. Players had to aim long, but Hirani, Bates and Eilidh McEwan were isolated. They offered speed, but beating a team from halfway is a low-percentage game.
Conversely, Rangers could move the ball to their fullbacks, or have advanced players pull wide only when play became too congested in the middle. As long as their defence stayed alert to potential breaks, the best hope for the opening goal was theirs.
It was perhaps a surprise that it took until the second period for that goal to come; that it originated in midfield numbers, however, was not. Winning the ball in the Hibs half, there was an immediate numerical advantage and midfielders to spare. With space into which to progress, Summer Christie’s 20 yard shot into the bottom right corner was certainly the optimum decision.
Hibs equalised swiftly, both in time and style. In many ways, their goal epitomised their earlier play as much as Rangers’ effort had. A long ball finally found success, with speed taking play past the defence. Only Hirani and a single defender were able to keep up, and without sufficient cover the striker was able to cut across her defender to convert the cross.
That goal inspired Hibs, who suddenly succeeded in joining their play with greater consistency. Ella Blamire filled the gap between strikers and the centre, and Hirani and Bates were able to tuck in, receiving and playing balls on the floor. The midfield monopoly cracked, Rangers found themselves struggling, and Hibs’ Friend could outwork her opponents as extra time arrived.
In an effort to reverse the tide, Rangers removed their centre forward, asking Jodi McLeary and Robinson to float in from wide positions. It didn’t appear to be effective, until suddenly it worked in the best fashion possible. McLeary chased and won a ball a long ball, turned in to find Donohoe, and then to the open MacLean, who had made great efforts to catch up with play. They had, in a manner, replicated Hibs’ strike to win the cup.