Delighted coach John Smith spoke of his pride after Sutherland lifted the SWF Highlands and Islands League Cup after a thrilling 3-2 final win against Clach.
A large and enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the action at Station Park, Nairn, on Sunday as two of the north’s strongest teams served up a cracker.
It is the first major honour for the three-year-old club, which is based in Helmsdale, and follows on from them finishing as runners-up to Caley Thistle’s development team in the Highlands and Islands League.
It was a real toe-to-toe contest, but goals from Paige-Lee Miller put Sutherland 2-0 ahead by half-time.
The showpiece looked done and dusted when Tracey-Anne Montgomery added a third goal when she won the race to the ball before tucking it away.
Lilywhites’ fightback added to drama
Clach rallied, however, and got back into it with a penalty from Betty Ross and scrambled second strike from Shannon Fulton.
The Merkinchers threw everything at their opponents, who put their bodies on the line to maintain their one-goal advantage and secure the victory.
Smith admits it was a tense conclusion as their opponents fought back superbly into the tie, but he feels the triumph was just reward for a campaign of top effort.
— Scottish Women’s Football (@ScotWFootball) October 4, 2021
He said: “It was a great experience. The girls thoroughly enjoyed their day.
“They have done really well all season. It’s our first season in the league and the players have been dedicated and professional in the way they’ve gone about the whole season.
“It was a thrilling final and I was certainly getting nervous towards the end when it came back to 3-2. Thankfully they saw out the last 10 minutes to pick up the cup.”
Commitment hailed by coach
Smith explained the players also show true dedication by the miles they put in just to make training and matches from a distance.
He added: “They are not all local girls, they come from all over Sutherland. We have players coming from Kinlochbervie, Lochinver, Scourie, so travelling 60-70 miles to come to training every week.
“Tracey-Anne is in the army and based in Leuchars at the moment, which is another example of commitment at the club.
“We were too late to join the league the first time, but we were all set to go for the 2020 season. Three days before our first match, Covid struck, so it has been a long wait, but Sunday’s success is all down to the girls and their hard work and effort.
“As a coach, I could not have been happier and was immensely proud.”
Backing appreciated as cup is won
The coach was grateful for the support from the local community, both in terms of the fans who travelled to Station Park and for the businesses who dug deep to back them.
He said: “The support we had on Sunday was tremendous. The stand at Nairn looked jam-packed and it was busy on the other side too.
“It was brilliant and great for Scottish women’s football. We have tremendous support from many local businesses all around Sutherland.
“Over the last week, we’ve had many donations and sponsorships, which makes it even more special. Winning the cup shows how appreciative we are for their support.”
Two-goal star Miller heading home
After lifting a trophy in the first term, the foundations are there for a strong 2022, although there will be at least one enforced change as their two-goal cup final stars departs.
How about that 🤯💥
— Scottish Women’s Football (@ScotWFootball) October 3, 2021
Smith said: “It’s a case of now consolidating on what we have achieved this season. There will be one or two areas we’ll have to change as we look to see who is available to play again next season.
“For example, Paige, who is an American, goes back home later this year and she will be a big miss for us. I am sure there will be other girls ready to step up and take their chance.”
Finishing at home to champions ICT
Sutherland round off their campaign at home to champions ICT this Sunday at Couper Park, Helmsdale, with a 2pm kick-off, and both teams have reason to celebrate.
Smith is relishing this final encounter, adding: “Caley Thistle won the championship recently when they beat Clach.
“We can’t catch them now, but we’re looking forward to it. It should be a really good game.”
ICT will be presented with their title trophy by the SWF after the match.
Our H&I squad will be presented with the League Trophy by the SWF on Sunday after they play their final game. There will be a supporters bus running which will be leaving the Jury's Inn at 10.30am. Seats will be £10. Please contact Zoe Morrison on 07584213147 to book your place
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle WFC (@ICTWFC) October 6, 2021