We look back at how Aberdeen FC Women’s title-winning SWPL 2 season began: a topsy-turvy match against Dundee United on the opening day.
Sunday October 18 2020 – Cormack Park, Aberdeen.
First match of the SWPL 2 season. Dundee United. Difficult one. The Dons are down 2-0 after 15 minutes. Worse, it’s 3-1 after 50.
Then, the fightback. An equaliser with four minutes left. Six-goal thriller. Some would be happy with that.
Not Aberdeen FC Women, though.
No, with the clock ticking over into a 95th minute, the Dons knuckled down, pushed forward and told their league rivals in no uncertain terms that they would not be happy simply with an invitation to this particular gig. They were going to be the headline act.
Having gone behind just five minutes into the match to a Tammy Harkin strike, the Reds had let in another, this time from Steffi Simson, in the 15th minute.
Eilidh Shore pulled one back before half-time but United restored their two-goal advantage almost immediately after the break through Stina Kleppe.
Francesca Ogilvie gave the Dons hope in the 64th minute then, when Bayley Hutchison equalised in the 86th, it looked like the headlines would be all about the Reds salvaging a ‘well-earned point’.
Step forward, Eva Thomson.
Picture the scene: with literally seconds remaining Aberdeen launch another attack. One last throw of the dice.
Hutchison ends up in possession at the left junction of the 18-yard box. The United defence force her away from goal but the striker shows great feet and even better vision to spot a red shirt lurking a few yards outside the area and slides the ball towards it.
It’s Thomson. The Dons number 18 controls the pass with her right, shaping to shoot. She notices a United defender approaching and decides to chop on to her left instead, unleashing an absolute cracker into the top-left corner.
Game, set, match. The first step on the road to glory.
A win worthy of champions
It is this win, Dons manager Emma Hunter says, which provided her side with the perfect platform to put together a quite fantastic SWPL 2 season.
“It feels like so long ago but that game was one that summed our team up,” said Hunter, whose side lifted the SWFL 1 North after an unbeaten season at the end of 2019.
“We were 3-1 down and we came back to win 4-3 with Eva’s winner. It gave us the start we needed in the league and we didn’t really look back from there.”
It’s true. Since that match the Reds have, largely, run roughshod over the division. Fourteen wins from 16 games. Sixty-four goals scored for the loss of just 15. Clinical in attack and sturdy in defence. Worthy champions.
And that’s exactly what they are. As of Sunday, nobody can catch Aberdeen; they will be playing SWPL 1 football against the likes of Glasgow City, Celtic and Rangers next term.
The season has, in a way, come full circle for Hunter’s side. It was Dundee United they beat on the opening day when they put the league on notice and it was Dundee United they beat on Sunday to seal the title.
“It was such an amazing moment to start the season like that and then kind of end it with the same game,” said Hunter.
A season like no other
While Hunter has also pinpointed the June 24 victory over Partick Thistle – which the Dons won after going a player down following captain Kelly Forrest’s controversial sending off – as a crucial moment, this season has proved an extraordinary one for the tribulations faced off the pitch as well as the success on it.
The Reds, like the wider community, have had to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the campaign.
Hunter herself told the Press and Journal earlier this year how her role as manager had evolved throughout the lockdowns and that she viewed her players as “extended family”.
Likewise, defender Amy Strath opened up during Mental Health Awareness Week about her own struggles the past year or so and how having contact with Hunter and her Reds team-mates helped.
So with Covid forcing a months-long interruption in Aberdeen’s march to the title it would’ve been easy to excuse a few slip-ups after the league’s resumption in early June.
But this is no ordinary team. As Hunter said after the Partick win: “We’re so close, we battle away and we never take anything for granted.”
That team spirit was on display once more to see off Dundee United on Sunday, with Thomson, Ogilvie and Hutchison on target again.
The gravity of their achievement in this season like no other is not lost on Hunter, who added: “It’s everything to us – and I mean that. I can’t even quite put it into words.
“It’s been a three-year journey (since full integration into Aberdeen FC) and everyone’s put everything into it under the most extraordinary circumstances with Covid and other things.
“It really just tops off everything that we’ve been through together.”