Stonehaven Ladies’ romantic journey towards a national cup final met with heartbreak in a pulsating semi- final which was a credit to the women’s game.
There were no tears at the final whistle at Mineralwell Park last Sunday, only an immense pride in Stoney ranks at running such a well-drilled, talented Kelty side so close in the SWFL Division 2 Cup semi-final.
Indeed Stoney led with less than ten minutes left on the clock.
They started at pace with Smith breaking clear down the left and cutting back to Urquhart who found her path blocked. Gordon’s lay-off to Townsend led to her shot being charged down.
After a Stoney corner Kelty’s keeper blocked a shot then play went up the other end with Imray clawing away a shot low to her right.
A neat midfield move led to Smith sliding in Urquhart, who broke through at pace centrally before showing composure to finish low past the Kelty keeper for a 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long as a sustained bout of Kelty interplay around Stoney’s box led to a shot beaten out by Imray but Kelty’s striker was first to react and lash in the rebound for the equaliser.
Urquhart looked to play through Townsend near the halfway line but she pulled up short to hobble off, replaced by ball-playing midfielder Masson.
Stoney were still edging it with their slightly more direct style causing unrest in a Kelty defence unused to having to defend this season. Gordon fed the ball wide to Sykes wide right, who beat her full back and drove in a curving, low cross, touched first time beyond the keeper by Smith, and Stoney led again.
Stoney then repeated the trick, cutting through Kelty’s defence like a hot knife through butter. Urquhart’s pass to the onrushing Smith saw her dink the ball expertly past the stranded goalie for a 3-1 advantage.
The play was end to end with Imray and Kelty’s keeper both needing to be alert. Bradley was heavily employed in her sweeper’s role for Stoney and Penny was excelling marking Kelty’s technically gifted centre forward.
Milne dug into all her reserves of experience in patrolling in front of Stoney’s back line and Gordon and Masson in midfield were having to work hard against an athletic Kelty midfield.
Stoney rode their luck from a series of opposition corners and both sides were creating a real feast for the spectators. Stoney full backs Caira and Bowie were typifying the whole Stoney performance with full-blooded tackles and non-stop running. However just as Stoney thought they’d weathered the storm Kelty scored on the stroke of half-time, getting first to a rebound as Imray beat out a Kelty strike.
If Stoney shaded the first half, in the second half they were forced back deeper and deeper by the energetic movement of Kelty.
Stoney introduced the strong-running Smart as they sought to re-energise and it nearly brought an early reward as she found space centrally and advanced 20 yards but pulled her shot wide.
Stoney were up against it and got lucky with Kelty passing up a couple of real chances from corners and Imray making neat saves.
However Stoney’s dangerous, fast counter-attacks there for all to see. Bowie and Urquhart found Smith out left and the ball curved across the edge of the box to the unmarked Gordon who had made up 50 yards but miscued her shot wide from near the penalty spot.
With 15 minutes to go Smith broke clear and cannoned a drive back off the post when but for a couple of inches Stoney may have been edging towards the final.
However the skill of the away side was building the pressure. Roby came on to help with the rearguard action and Stoney were starting to concede a series of corners and free kicks as legs and minds became tired.
With ten minutes to go Stoney were 3-2 up but the warning signs were there. A Kelty set piece, a crowded box, a shot, a save, then a robust challenge on the keeper seeking to gather the rebound led to the ball being bundled in for 3-3. Momentum was with the away side.
With two minutes to go and Stoney legs weary, Kelty’s striker found herself free on the edge of the area and she lashed in a shot which swerved through the keeper’s grasp and the Stoney dream was over.
Sometimes it is best to just sit back and look at how enjoyable the journey was even if Stoney didn’t quite have enough to reach the final. To be beaten by a strong opponent in a full-blooded contest is no disgrace. Surely this committed Stoney squad will create many more enjoyable memories this season.
Manager Matt Smith said: “We would like to congratulate Kelty on making the final and we hope we did the North league proud by reaching the semi-finals. I’m very proud of my players and it’s my job to pick them up and concentrate on the league fixtures ahead.”
Stonehaven squad: Danni Imray, Nicola Caira, Charis Bowie (capt), Lisa Penny, Tyne Bradley, Alannah Milne, Katy Townsend, Rhona Gordon, Jemma Sykes, Lynsey Urquhart, Elise Smith, Leanne Masson, Hannah Smart, Natalie Roby, Emily Grundy, Ann Laing.