Head Coach, Dean Gibson gives a preseason overview and looks ahead to the new season this weekend
With the women’s football season in Scotland being put on hold since early March, this year has been anything but normal for teams across the leagues. We’ve had a league restructure, change in the fixture schedule with the Scottish Building Society SWPL moving from a summer to a winter season, as well as an extended preseason over the past few months.
As access to fans and staff was restricted for preseason games, we caught up with Hibernian Women Head Coach, Dean Gibson, to provide you with an overview of how the team’s preseason has gone and how they are shaping up for the league restart on Sunday.
The countrywide lockdown from March to July meant there was no football whatsoever for the team and when they were allowed back to training, it was under new restrictions:
“When we came back from lockdown and it was non-contact, we called that pre-preseason. It was about getting the legs moving but also gave us the chance to see how fit the team was. The players were still in good spirits but it wasn’t normal football.
“The minute we were allowed contact again, the buzz about the group has been brilliant. They’d really looked after themselves throughout lockdown. They came back and made our jobs a lot easier. They were all really fit, none came back with any concerns.
“We told the girls that we can trust them to maintain that themselves now and we can use the Tuesday, Thursday, Friday sessions to really focus on team aspects. That’s been a massive bonus because you can see the difference in us from our first preseason game against Glasgow Women to the final game against Hamilton was night and day.
“The standard and their understanding of what we want went up a few levels. Over the course of preseason it’s been good, the girls are a credit to themselves, they’ve made our lives easy by keeping themselves in such good condition.”
The team’s first 11-a-side game during preseason was an 11v11 bounce game, after a planned friendly against Newcastle fell through. This gave Dean and the rest of the coaches a chance to see how the players had adapted to the style they’d been trying to implement and provided aspects to work on in the upcoming friendly fixtures.
First up was Glasgow Women, with Hibs winning the game 9-0. Dean was happy with how the team had kicked off their games: “We played really well. The bonus game the week before gave us a real idea on what we needed to work on. Already within a week there was a massive improvement around the team's understanding. We took confidence from that.”
Next up came a home tie versus St. Johnstone, followed by a trip north to face Aberdeen. Over these two games, Hibs scored a further 10 goals (6-0 and 4-0, respectively).
The Aberdeen game in particular gave Dean a better understanding of the team’s attitude and desire to learn: “A game of two halves. I felt we didn’t turn up with the right attitude in the first half of that game. We let them know that the standards weren’t good enough. The players took the criticism on the chin. We do know that players have off days but it was encouraging to see that they were aware of this and were able to lift the performance.”
The final preseason game put the SWPL Cup holders up against one of the SBS SWPL 2 title favourites, Hamilton. By Dean’s own admission, this was the best performance of all the preseason fixtures, despite a tighter scoreline, with the game finishing 6-4 to Hibs:
“For 80 minutes it was the best we’ve seen. I include the Spartans game at the beginning of the year. Everything just seemed to click for us. Understanding our style, the pace we were moving at, defensively when Hamilton had the ball everything clicked.
“I’m not sure what happened but we had a mental eight minutes spell in which we lost three goals. It was nothing that really worries us either because it was so surreal. In theory, by 80 minutes we could’ve been ahead by double figures.”
On preseason in general, the head coach said, “Preseason has served its purpose well. I felt sorry for the players back in January because we had just come in and it was harder to organise things.
“However, this time everything from the organisation right through to their performance has been brilliant giving us a platform to go and prepare for the season.”
A Busy Summer in the Transfer Market
There’s a new look feel to the Hibs squad going into the new season, with four new faces joining the squad, alongside the signing of Carla Boyce, Sophie Allison and Hannah Scott at the beginning of the year.
Most of these new signings fit the mould of young, hungry players eager to learn and develop at Hibernian, whilst still carrying enough quality to fit into one of the league’s most successful clubs. Six of the new squad members are under 20 years-old, having already built up a wealth of experience, both in club football and international.
Dean also brought in Charlotte Potts from Sunderland to bolster the experience and quality in the spine of the team. ‘Pottsy’ has played in North America and England, as well as boasting a healthy trophy cabinet.
On top of new signings, Hibs also secured the long-term commitment of nine first team regulars. In August, the club were delighted to announce a range of contracts. This represented a big step forward in both the professionalism and development for Hibernian Women going into the new season and beyond. Read more on the new contracts here.
Charlotte Potts (from Sunderland)
Addie Handley (from Boroughmuir Thistle)
Emily Mutch (from Heart of Midlothian)
Chelsea McEachran (from Heart of Midlothian)
Nicola Jamieson (released)
Morgan Turner (released)
Jeni Currie (released)
Lia Tweedie (released)
Lauren Davidson (released)
Eve Donald (loaned to Glasgow Women)
Looking Forward to a New Season
With increased funding from a number of clubs across the league, this season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and exciting seasons the SBS SWPL has ever had. Alongside ourselves and Glasgow City, the country’s two most successful teams in recent years, Celtic and Rangers are being tipped by many to go and compete at the top end of the league.
With two UEFA Women’s Champions League spots up for grabs, competition is going to be fierce, not just from the four teams mentioned above, but from every team in SBS SWPL 1. There have been numerous standout signings as players move around and clubs look to strengthen.
To combat the impact of the ongoing pandemic, a new fixture schedule was also announced earlier this year, with the season now running from October-May - allowing plenty of games to be played under the drama-increasing floodlights.
Looking forward to the season ahead, Dean is excited at Hibs’ prospects and is confident in his team’s chances of competing at the top: “I’m excited. I think we’ve gone under the radar, not from within, but from the media and other fans across the league.
“Sometimes you prefer that, you don’t want the pressure to be building on the players. We put enough pressure on the players alone to perform, we don’t need that from anyone else.
“We’ve got as much chance as anyone. You’d be very brave to write off the players that we have in the squad, players that have been there and done it, there’s no reason they can’t go do it again.
“Everyone is aware the league is going to be more competitive this season but that also makes it more exciting: more exciting for clubs, more exciting for fans, more exciting for sponsors.
“There’s going to be twists and turns, ups and downs but I’m fully confident at the end of the season we will be where we want to be and that’s at the top end of the table.”
We’d also like to remind fans that due to current guidelines, we cannot allow entry to any of our home games, as much as we’d like you there.
However, as we go into season 2020/21, make sure you’re keeping right up-to-date with Hibernian Women by following us on Twitter: @HibernianWomen