Lewis and Harris Women conquer Clach in football stunner

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With their youthful swagger, the Lewis and Harris Womens FC are not so much a breath of fresh air as a force 10 gale. It is hard not to be seduced by their fearlessness and style.

The squad, which is almost entirely a schoolgirl team with just TWO none teenage players in their ranks, have played three and won three now in the newly formed Highlands and Islands League.

Their league debut saw them hit 19 without reply against Nairn before playing with just ten men for much of their second match against Buckie ended 4-0 in their favour.

Last weekend promised to be the biggest test of the young squad’s mettle as they travelled to Inverness to play Clachnacuddin WFC who themselves had cruised in the early rounds with a 20-0 win over Kirkwall City Ladies to their credit.

Even this early in the league season it was being viewed as a potential six-pointer and a gauge for both sides with designs on taking the league title home at the end of the campaign.

And by 4pm on Saturday it was the Hebridean’s who retained their 100 per cent record and lead at the league summit after a stunning and much deserved win over their vastly more experienced opponents.

With an average age of the squad well below 20 it is remarkable to think the players involved included two 14-year-olds, two 15-year-old’s, two 16-year-old’s and a pair of 17-year-olds taking to the turf. All deserve huge praise but looking at the likes of 16-year-old Holly Martin who filled in at left-back – she was unfazed about taking on a much older opponent and showed a wonderful blend of power and adventurousness, a rock in defence, confidence to pass the ball when it came her way but also capable of breaking deep behind enemy lines with his runaway surges.

In stark contrast Clach were mostly made up of players at least double the age of the young island side. Neither side had even conceded a goal in the league so when these two clashed something was always going to give.

The first thing to go was the Lewis and Harris clean sheet record as they fell behind and conceded the first goal of their campaign inside the opening five minutes.

There seemed little danger when skipper Anne-Louise Stewart mopped up a loose ball 25-yards from her own goal and knocked it back to keeper Hollie McEwan.

But Hollie – a forward who has been taking the gloves in the absence of a regular keeper after the squad’s former keepers Rachael Johnstone and Chloe Nicolson were signed by Celtic and Rangers – took her eye off the ball and it skipped over her foot and over the line.

It was a difficult start but watching his side have to chase a match having fallen behind for the first time gave coach Euan Macleod the opportunity to see a different test of his side and see how his players reacted.

What he will have learned is his side were barely fazed, that they stuck to their game plan, they didn’t panic and they believe in themselves.

It didn’t take long for Lewis and Harris to draw level with a familiar name on the scoresheet once again.

Shana MacPhail won the ball on the left side of midfield and bounded up the flank before sending the ball skidding across the face of goal, the away bench rose – begging Abbie Campbell to smash home. She didn’t, instead she unselfishly slipped the ball five yards to her right across the turf where the unmarked Mary Macleod was lurking to knock home a priceless goal.

Having bagged eight goals on week one against Nairn and another double against Buckie, this took her season’s haul to double figures after just three matches – remarkable.

Following the goal the ball was in the Clachnacuddin half so much it could have been asked to pay council tax. The visitors were bossing the ball and controlling the game and Shana flashed a shot a foot wide of the upright as Lewis and Harris cranked through the gears.

The next chance fell to Mary who latched onto a through ball from Ann Mairi Macleod but the Clach keeper raced off her line to make a point blank save. Mary went close again on the half hour mark with a hooked volley as she cut into the box to meet Shana’s cross.

Clach’s only shot on goal of the half came a minute from half-time when their No.9 – probably their most dangerous player – shot wide from the edge of the box.

After the break Mary was back on the attack with another charge up the right was matched with a ball over the top but from an ever tightening angle she shot over the top.

She also had the next chance but this time she hit the target and the keeper who made a strong double fisted stop.

Clach were offering little threat and although Hollie had picked the ball out of the net she hadn’t had a single save to make. The Lewis and Harris back line had been in no mood to give Clach any chances and when the ball did find its way into the islanders box, Hollie’s kicking was brilliant as she got power and distance on any kicks to alleviate any pressure.

There was a brief moment of concern when Jessica Macleod had her pocket picked and Clach burst forward towards the heart of the Lewis and Harris defence but Anne-Louise, the side’s most dominant defender and seemingly chiselled from rock, was on hand in the sweeper position to sprint over the mop up the danger.

Lewis and Harris briefly thought they had edged ahead 15 minutes from the end when Mary’s cross was hooked across goal by Shana with the ball being booted clear on or just over the line. It was incredibly difficult to gauge in real time but it was a heart stopping moment for the Clach bench.

The pressure continued and finally paid off two minutes later as Maryam Lee sent the ball through to the turbo-charged Mary Macleod who skipped round the keeper before rolling the ball into the empty net to give Lewis and Harris the lead for the first time on the day.

Another goal and another top moment for Mary who is a player of great technique, small and fast, but who also boasts aggression and tough determination. Unpredictable, she can be as dangerous coming off the flank and bombing through the middle as she can when blazing a trail down the wing to put in crosses. Her performance was a wonder to behold and another pair of well taken goals to her league tally to a phenomenal 11 in just three matches.

When the ball nestled in the corner of the Clach net, you could hear the home stand at Grant Street deflate like a punctured bouncy castle but they almost snatched an undeserved leveller in the final minute when they smacked the base of the post but Anne-Louise retrieved the ball and fired it up field to safety.

The final whistle brought Euan Macleod roaring onto the pitch with his fist in the Inverness sky as he hailed his warriors for another brilliant win against a strong side.

Points are the currency of all football leagues and this week Lewis and Harris Women’s FC are richer beyond their wildest dreams and drunk on the euphoria of a third resounding league victory to tighten their vice like grip on the top of the table.