Aberdeen Women captain Hannah Stewart has backed her side to bounce back from their challenges in the new year.
The Dons signed off SWPL duty for 2023 with a 7-0 defeat to Hibernian at Cormack Park on Saturday afternoon.
Despite the heavy loss, Clint Lancaster’s side remain in seventh going into the festive break: eight points behind sixth-placed Partick Thistle and three clear of Motherwell in eighth.
It has been a campaign with ups and downs – such as season-ending injuries, which have left the Dons operating with a young squad light on numbers.
That was reflected in the line-up against Hibs at the weekend as Lancaster named two 15-year-olds – Keira MacPherson and Phoebe Murray – and 16-year-old defender Amilie Martindale in the starting XI.
Stewart believes the break in fixtures has come at a good time, with Aberdeen returning to action on January 7 against Boroughmuir Thistle in the Scottish Cup.
The Dons captain said: “The last few games have been tough. I think we have performed quite well in spells, but before we were performing well consistently.
“That seems to have dipped a little bit.
“Whether that is down to a lack of confidence or self-belief – individually and collectively – it has been hard and the break comes at a good time.
“It allows us to regroup and the players we have got here can go and rest physically and mentally, but we also know we’ve potentially got players coming in in January which will help us out.”
Dons must get back to ‘knocking ball about for fun’
Stewart believes Aberdeen need to return to the form they showed early on in the league season when they picked up four wins from their opening six matches.
The Dons have won two – against Motherwell and Spartans – and drew one, with basement side Hamilton Accies, of their last 10 games in the SWPL.
Stewart added: “We need to get back to how we played during the first half of the season. We were unbelievable at times, playing teams off the park, knocking the ball about for fun and playing with confidence.
“We need to get back to that, but that does come with playing well and winning.
“There is a break now, but when we come back in we will regroup and work on things week in and week out to get back to where we want to be. It will come.
“Hopefully, we will get the new players in and they will gel with the squad. They will need to buy into the way that we play.
“We need to keep looking up – we’re seventh in the table and need to consolidate that by taking points off the teams around us. But we also want to try and aim higher.”
Although the calendar year ended with the emphatic defeat to Hibs, Stewart was proud of how her side reacted in the second-half, having been 5-0 down at half-time.
She said: “We are the youngest team in this league, so to show a bit of fight and grit against these full-time teams like Hibs – it is all you can ask from them.
“The young players, like Emma Lawson, Phoebe Murray and Kiera MacPherson, are fighting and, ultimately, they deserve their place in the team.
“I am proud of the group and how they reacted in the second half. It is tough to rally round when things are going against you – and we’ve had to do that a lot this season with injuries and things, but as a group we have to stick together.”