Hibs 17s travelled down to Galston in Ayrshire to play Kilmarnock 17s in an anticipated pre-season friendly. The travelling side surely must have high ambitions for the upcoming season, as the 17s last year went all the way to the final of the Scottish Cup. (Where I had the pleasure of reporting on their Final.) Whilst perhaps you could argue that the squad has lost a number of players due to age restrictions now, they have promoted many a player from the U-15s side that won the Scottish Cup last year.
As for Kilmarnock, they had no 17s side last year, so this is a totally new squad. Since joining up with the men's professional team, the Ladies side have been able to bring in many players of good ability, and in various positions too. The teams opted to play three thirds of thirty minutes, and the first third was very even. Kilmarnock had a match day squad of 18, and Hibs only travelled with 12. It was experimental second and third periods, and Hibs were decisive in taking advantage of Kilmarnock after they made many a change - the home side's lack of knowledge of one another obvious. Whilst Hibs bettered the Ayrshire side by number of goals scored, there were two winning sides out there though, as both sides experimented as much as they could, and will now have a better picture of tactics for the competitive season.
A lot of things have changed since I last watched Hibs play back in mid-November - not least the venue and weather. If there was sunshine on Leith when the green-and-whites departed this morning, they sure did not find any in my hometown of Galston by the time they arrived. In fact, the weather was by far the worst I have ever reported in; windy, wet and bitingly cold. Makes quite a change from the indoor facility at Toryglen. Thankfully, I had also exchanged my formal suit attire for a pair of rather tight Reebok waterproofs!
It seemed we were all set to go, and still the game never went ahead, due to a lack of referee. However, Kilmarnock Club Secretary Kenny Campbell stood into referee after a twenty minute delay of panic: finally, we were all set to go.
Having witnessed the majority of the Hibs team play before, it was not surprising for me that they were a team applying early high pressure. In fact, they almost scored inside three minutes. Sophie Kay's in swinging free kick ricocheted into the path of Megan Kerr eight yards out; her effort seemed goal bound but it deflected and looped over the crossbar for a corner.
Kilmarnock launched a few counter attacks in the opening spell, but the Hibees defence stood firm. Shout out to Erin Burns; the Hibs full-back deflected the ball out for a throw in- and straight off of my phone, sending it into the turf. With the screen already cracked, it has gotten even worse! Maybe its time for a new one now!
Anyway, it was indeed Hibs who opened the scoring. Another Kay set piece found its way into the path of Livi Murphy who swept the ball home.
However, Kilmarnock equalised straight away. Kristiana Hamilton - who had made her first team debut at 14, making her one of the most experience players left at this age group - raced through on goal. Using her pace she found time to compose herself before slotting home - not the easiest task when facing YFS Team Of The Year Goalkeeper Kirsty Jefferies.
The lively Caitlin Russell was beginning to become a real thorn for the Kilmarnock side to deal with. She dribbled her way to the byline and fired across goal, begging for it to be turned in, however Kilmarnock’s Kaitlin Hamilton was alert to block the danger on the goal line, and then clear to safety.
I'm told Kilmarnock skipper Caitlin Howie was once nicknamed 'The Terminator' for her tough tackling style. She lived up to this title though, saving her team with two superb tackles in 50/50s with Mhairi Smith: had the Hibees striker been allowed to run through on goal after nearly benefitting from a loose ball it surely would have been 2-1.
Kilmarnock were beginning to ride a storm, and they had Erin McManus to thank for keeping the score level, after she tipped Russell's pile driver onto her left hand post.
They didn't heed the warnings however, and Mhairi Smith created space for herself before blasting beyond and across the stranded McManus for 2-1.
That brought about the end of the first third. It was extremely tight throughout, but Hibs' high pressure had been rewarded with a 2-1 lead.
Hibs were pretty much forced to play with the hand they were dealt with, and kept their style similar for the second third. However, Kilmarnock made numerous changes, to experiment for the upcoming season.
Laughs soon filled the pitch side, as the Kilmarnock coach claimed their coach had only fielded ten players after the restart. They sent out another player, only to find out that they had originally had all eleven players on the field! Only in Kilmarnock would one struggle to count to eleven! (As the Hibs coaches reminded them so!)
Hibs came straight out their corner and fighting fiercely. Dee Moffat found Smith, who cut in and fired wide from twenty-five yards.
Seconds later, a Burns free kick deflected off of the face of a luckless defender, and the ball bounced into the path of Rebecca Smith who half volleyed just wide.
It was indeed 3-1 seven minutes into the second half. Russell picked the ball up forty yards from goal, and drove through wave after wave of defenders with flair, and slotted inch-perfectly beyond Darlene Mitchell who was now in the Kilmarnock goal.
Mitchell made a great one v one stop from Kay, after the silky midfielder had jinked her way into the box. Great challenge, but it left the forward needing a bit of treatment. Rather harshly, the Kilmarnock players on the bench started to chant about subbing the referee rather than the player, again everyone having a great laugh! Luckily, Kay was able to continue. Luckily, the stand in referee also decided to continue, taking the flak with a smile on his face!
Kay played a part on her side's fourth goal. She slipped the ball into Russell, who powered her way into the box and blasted a ball in off the crossbar for 4-1. A run and finish that my hero Yaya Toure would be proud of!
It was soon 5-1, with Russell completing a magnificent quick-fire hat trick. Ever dangerous from set pieces, Burns picked out the head of Russell who nodded the ball into the bottom corner with an expert header.
Again Burns' crossing ability was causing Kilmarnock problems: within a minute she supplied two superb crosses that both narrowly evaded Rebecca Smith.
The relentless Russell grabbed herself another after picking up the ball out on the left, and drove through the heart the home side's defence and slotted home for 6-1.
That concluded the end of the second third. The Kilmarnock coach himself claimed he was taking the blame for the scoreline that had quickly went from ideal to “not what they were hoping for.” However, this was a case of trial and error and an experience I'm sure everyone will feel was necessary as they prepare for the oncoming season. So, rather than going back to a tried and tested method, the Blue-and-White's went more ambitious and experimented further.
As for Hibs, they could only pat themselves on the back. A tremendous showing in that second third that proves they will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the National Competition this year, and they certainly have a chance of retaining their league and cup double should they keep this level of performance up.