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Bouncing Back – Hamilton’s Season Review – Robert Watson

Hamilton Academical WFC 2016 League Season Review

Robert Watson – Assistant Manager

Photo: Colin Poultney/Collage Images

Unity and Desire

“I want to be part of the team that brings us back up because I was in the team that got relegated. You have that responsibility on you”.

There was no more apt quote in the whole of our season than the one above from our midfielder Deborah McLeod.

Let’s make no mistake – 2015 was tough and at times downright painful. And that’s what makes 2016s achievements even greater.

Gary (Doctor, 1st Team Manager) and the coaching team started the rebuild process early in November 2015 and that preparation and attention to detail set the tone for what has been a largely fabulous Season. It was key getting the core of 2015s Squad in place for 2016 as we knew we had talent within the ranks despite the relegation to SWPL2.

We had interest from elsewhere for some of those players but I’m glad the commitment they showed back to the coaching staff and the Club has resulted in such a positive experience for everyone.

Adding in no less than 12 new signings had its own benefits but also a bedding in period for everyone. What dynamics work within the team? Who formed partnerships? What role could players offer?

The players’ attitudes and aptitude over pre-Season was outstanding. Essentially building a whole squad from scratch was difficult but with experience and a few big personalities very quickly they became a close-knit group.

We started on an absolute flyer away to Inverness winning 5-3 where we felt we really should have scored more and lost a couple of poor goals. That followed with convincing wins over Jeanfield Swifts and Queens Park before what we saw as a big double header at home to Glasgow Girls and Hearts.

I always knew they would both be the teams to beat. Hearts had finished above us last season when we were both relegated and Glasgow had won Division 1.

The Glasgow game had some added spice as they are my old Club but we controlled large parts of the match and ran out comfortable winners.

Hearts followed where we lost 3-1 in a tight game before a disappointing second loss of the season away to Hutchison Vale which I look back at as our poorest performance of the Season.

Photo: Graeme Berry
Glasgow Girls celebrate scoring against Hamilton to go top

Out of the Title Race?

Back to back defeats against Glasgow Girls and Hearts, either side of the break, saw us drop 5 points off the summit. Understandably the mood in the Squad had been dented but in a way it was the making of us. All of a sudden there was no pressure – just go and enjoy the games and get a win.

It was strange because we lost both games where we should have gotten draws. An 86th minute goal for Glasgow saw us go 2-1, a last minute penalty away to Hearts saw us lose 1-0. Despite the points gap I always felt we would still come back.

Let’s be honest – everyone had written us off. There was even some talk (outside of Accies) that we had even bottled it. Not a chance. We might have been at a low but this group were going to fight to the absolute last.

Photo: Aaron Wilson
Hamilton lose to Hearts in July

Last Minute Diving Headers

“The next game is the most important game of the Season”.

It seems like a simple thing to say but as Gary delivered the message after the Hearts game it crystallised what we needed to do. Win one game at a time.

Then it started all falling into a place. A couple of summer signings from Celtic and Stirling strengthened the squad which was getting thin with injury and a couple of players jetting off to sunny California to coach for 4 months.

The key moment was the away game to Buchan. We had prepared well – despite only having 13 players available due to injury. We travelled up the night before the game, had beaten them 5-2 at New Douglas Park earlier in the Season and were on a winning run. We were confident.

From minute one, we battered them. I mean battered – they couldn’t get off their 18-yard line but chance by chance we did everything but score. The woodwork was found 3 times, the goalkeeper was having a worldy before we broke the deadlock from the most unlikely source – a 35-yard curling effort from KJ (Katherine Jaycock).

To put that in perspective KJ had scored 1 goal in 4 years. She even had the audacity to hit the bar minutes later with the exact same type of effort!

Which brings me to why football is on one hand, a wonderful game and on the other downright infuriating.

Gary spent 12, 13 minutes of half-time talking about keeping things focused. We were only one goal up despite dominating play. Of course what happened right after half-time? Buchan force Elaine into a great tip over the bar then score from the resulting corner.

We huffed and puffed for the next 43 minutes and to didn’t really create much. Amy (Lindsay) went down injured with ten to go meaning we had to throw on Kathleen who on hindsight really shouldn’t have played such was her sickness bug. However, this meant keeping 11 on the park and I always thought though with the pressure we were creating would get one big chance at the end.

89th minute and Amy Anderson slung a ball out wide to Gill who somehow had appeared in the right wing. We had thrown everyone forward in the dying minutes and with a first time cross to the back post there was Deborah – throwing connecting with her forehead to crash the ball home. That quote at the start of the season, a huge last minute goal to put us in front – it all came together for that moment on a wet day 30 minutes North of Aberdeen.

To be honest I couldn’t actually see it all that well from the angle but Debs assures me it was a full on diving header, throwing herself some 5 or 6 yards to get on the end of the cross. The re-enactment at training was hilarious. I’m not saying she is embellishing it….but I WANT to believe her.

Photo: Aaron Wilson
Hamilton beat Hearts in October’s crucial contest

Champions

The players will admit it now but they knew after the Buchan game we were building to Glasgow and Hearts at home. We did the business each week leading up to the games – the scene was set, sink or swim.

First up, Glasgow was despatched in a first half 4 goal blitz. Over 200 were in the ground and the roar when Mhairi put us 1 up was incredible. The training week leading up to the game was good, I was quite relaxed about it I had that feeling of “there is no way we will lose”. The players were grabbing this title race by the scruff of the neck.

Hearts were up next which was the game I was always more concerned about. They had caused us some problems with their midfield diamond earlier in the season and of course we had lost twice already in the League to them.

Again Mhairi got the crucial first goal heading home from 6 yards, Gill then slotted home a penalty and Mhairi made it safe in the second half with another header. An even bigger crowd backed us (and Hearts) that day and they were fantastic from start to finish. A real advert for Scottish Women’s Football.

Finally, the end day came – while we didn’t play well, our 9th win on the bounce saw us crowned deserved Champions. Coming back from 5 points behind proved the doubters wrong and was a testament to the mental strength of the players who had given everything over 10 months of football. Needless to say we had a few drinks afterwards.

I can’t praise them enough. The unity and close-knit nature in the team meant we even had the injured players turning up in full tracksuits to watch the games.

I’m so happy for every single one of them. The Manager needs the highest praise as well for his preparation, attention to detail and driving force behind everything. He has been fantastic to work with and has been a huge influence on me this year.

“I want to be part of the team that brings us back up because I was in the team that got relegated. You have that responsibility on you”.

We delivered.

24 players, 3 Coaches, 2 Physios, 2 Fitness Coaches, 1 Chaplain, 17 wins, 89 goals, 51 points, 9 game winning run.

1 Champion.

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