By Tim Oliver
After a long winter of no Sunday football, the SWPL returns with the SWPL Cup First Round. This round is seeded, meaning in each tie an SWPL 1 side plays an SWPL 2 club. There are lots of cracking ties and exciting opportunities of cup upsets.
Please note, that the game between Aberdeen and Glasgow Girls will now take place next Sunday.
Hearts vs Hamilton Academical
King’s Park, Dalkeith, Kick-off: 2pm.
This is arguably the most likely game where you will find a ‘cupset’, and if the game is anything like the encounters between these two sides we saw last season, this is going to be a cracker.
Hamilton may have won the SWPL 2 title, but Hearts did have the better of their visitors over 2016, beating them three times out of four. However, Accies will feel that they won the crucial game back in October that saw Hamilton move into pole position for the league.
Both sides have made few signings, although Hamilton’s Head Coach Gary Doctor has said that the signings they made last summer were ones they would have made now. Hearts, in the meantime, made the very impressive signing of Katie Reilly.
The SWPL Cup is neither of the two sides priorities this season. Hearts, under new Head Coach Andy Enwood, will be looking to win the SWPL 2 whilst Hamilton will be looking to beat relegation. Regardless of that, both sides will understand the importance of starting the season with a win to move into the SWPL season when it starts on the 13th of March.
There is also a guarantee that whichever side wins today that they will progress further than they did last season. In the 2016 SWPL Cup First Round, Hearst lost out to Forfar Farmington whilst Hamilton were defeated by Rangers.
Celtic v Forfar Farmington
K-Park, Kick-off: 2pm
Celtic’s pre-season signings have been highly promising, especially with the additions of forwards Sarah Crilly and Sarah Ewens. They start the SWPL Cup, probably as the third favourite (only behind Glasgow City and Hibernian) but they start their season with a tricky tie against Forfar Farmington.
Despite Forfar Farmington being relegated from the SWPL 1 last season, Celtic know they can’t take their opponents likely, with Forfar coming agonisingly close to taking points off them last May.
Whilst Forfar have lost a few players over the re-season, they have retained the core of the squad and have strengthened with some astute signings as they look to launch an SWPL 2 title challenge.
Last season, Celtic were eliminated at this stage, losing to Hibernian. The same opposition knocked Forfar out in the Quarter-Finals.
East Fife v Hibernian
King George V Park, Kick-off: 1pm
What a fixture to make your SWPL debut in! East Fife begin the SWPL season by welcoming Hibernian to the King George V Park.
Whilst Hibernian will arrive as the holders of the SWPL Cup, they know that they can’t take the SWPL 2 club lightly. After all, East Fife did win the SWFL Division One North title with a 100% record.
But, there is a slight advantage for Hibs that some other SWPL clubs may not have had. In last season’s Division One Cup final, East Fife took on Hibernian’s Development team, with the Edinburgh side triumphing with a 2-1 win. A few of those players are now part of Hibernian’s First Team squad.
East Fife though will know that whilst they are not expected to beat Hibernian, they are capable of causing a real shock.
Hibernian currently are holders of the SWPL Cup, winning it for the fourth time. However, they are yet to defend the cup previously. This is something they will clearly want to change this year.
Jeanfield Swifts v Glasgow City
McDiarmid Park 3G Pitch, Kick-off: 4pm
Jeanfield Swifts welcome the SWPL 1 champions Glasgow City to McDiarmid Pak for the first meeting between the clubs.
Jeanfield developed a reputation as on of the best attacking sides in the SWPL 2 and possess the league’s top scorer from last season in Danni McGinley. However, they face a tricky opener in the SWPL Cup as they face Glasgow City.
There is a great deal of building work going on at City, with a series of new signings to bed in after losing two of their key players last season. However, the players brought in are highly exciting and sought after with perhaps the biggest coup being the acquisition of the promising forward Savannah Jordan.
Last season, Jeanfield lost in the First Round to Aberdeen whilst Glasgow City lost in the Final to Hibernian.
Motherwell v Spartans
Ravenscraig, Kick-off: 4pm
Motherwell make their SWPL debut by welcoming Spartans in the SWPL Cup First Round.
Motherwell, who won the SWFL Division One South, will go into this game with some confidence having built up a reputation over the past few seasons for surprising cup runs, including reaching the 2015 Scottish Cup Quarter-Finals.
They have made some smart recruitment over pre-season, including the signing of Christie Kerr, who spent the second half of last season with Spartans.
Spartans go into their second season under Suzy Shepherd and have also made some exciting transfer dealings. They have re-signed Alana Marshall whose free-kick ability will make several sides very nervous over 2017, and they will be hoping the loan signing of Carla Boyce from Glasgow City will bring in the goals.
Motherwell reached the Semi-Final of the SWFL Division One Cup last season, whilst Spartans were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals of the SWPL Cup by Aberdeen.
Rangers v Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale
New Tinto Park, Kick-off: 2pm
Rangers host a dangerous Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale (EUHV) in the SWPL Cup First Round.
Rangers may still be looking for a permanent Head Coach, however, they have managed to keep hold of key players including their Player of the Season, Chantelle Brown. Plus, they go into this game off the back of a shock 2-1 win over Glasgow City in a friendly. Whilst obviously you can’t take too much notice of a friendly result, it does show that they haven’t struggled over the coaching vacancy.
EUHV are a newly formed partnership and they will be looking to mark their first game with a real cup shock by beating Rangers. Last season, as Hutchison Vale, they were unlucky not to find themselves in the title race, causing probably the most problems to the top three sides out of the SWPL 2. The new partnership sees the club now playing at Peffermill and they will be making their home debut.
Rangers reached the Semi-Finals of the SWPL Cup last season where they were defeated by the eventual winners Hibernian, whilst EUHV lost to Glasgow Girls in a thriller in the First Round.
Stirling University v Buchan
Stirling University, Kick-off: 2:45pm
Arguably the team of the year in the SWPL 1, Stirling Universty, host Buchan in the SWPL Cup First Round.
Stirling did incredibly well last year to finish fourth, including some highly impressive wins over Celtic and Rangers. They’ve lost top scorer Nicole Pullar to Glasgow City, but they still possess a very dangerous attacking side, and they will be hoping to challenge for the top four once again.
They were very unlucky to be knocked out of the First Round of the SWPL Cup by Spartans, losing in extra-time, and will be hoping to make it to the Quarter-Finals for the very first time.
You can use Buchan as a sign of how competitive the SWPL 2 was last season: a side that caused problems to the top sides and took points off them but finished sixth. Their attack is one of the best in the league, and one that Stirling will have to be wary of.
They reached the Quarter-Finals last season where they were knocked out by Rangers.