Stonehaven Ladies battle past Montrose to go top of table

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Stonehaven Ladies edged a tense top-of-the-table clash at Links Park last Sunday in a game between two well-matched sides.

Montrose started the SWFL Division 2 North encounter the brighter side.

Bradley and Penny were regularly employed at the back for Stoney with a series of last-gasp challenges as Stoney struggled to come to grips with Montrose’s strong, powerful running from deep.

However Stoney keeper Imray was on form and needed a couple of quick interceptions and a block low at her near post from a snap shot.

Stoney had hoped to get Masson on the ball in midfield but injury cut her game short after 15 minutes. Stoney were starting to offer a threat with Smith linking with Caira and Urquhart down the left to fizz in a low cross which was inches away from the inrushing Conn’s outstretched boot.

Montrose nearly scored at the other end when their centre forward powerfully met a corner and the ball somehow grazed the bar. Montrose then passed up a glorious chance to take the lead as they broke 3-on-2 down Stoney’s left. A neat ball inside and their striker was in on goal. Imray raced from her line and her intervention proved vital as she forced the striker to pass, which she overhit.

Stoney have rarely had to defend so much this season. Montrose couldn’t maintain the frantic Liverpool-like pressing, however.

Gordon’s energy and Urquhart’s movement in the midfield areas was starting to feature and Smith found herself free cutting inside her full back and homing in on goal. Seconds later Stoney had a penalty as Smith’s heels were clipped and she went sprawling just as she was shaping to shoot. Urquhart finished clinically from the spot.

Both teams went close as the half drew to an end with Montrose’s keeper diving high left to divert a goalbound Smith cross-shot and Imray needing to race out and clear at the other end.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first with Montrose camping in Stoney’s half. However Stoney’s defending was more calm and assured than in the first and Montrose were struggling to get in behind the back line in the same way as they did first half. One thumping Milne block tackle could probably have been heard across the North Sea.

Just as Stoney seemed to have seen off Montrose’s charge a free kick out wide was met centrally by a powerful header which gave Imray no chance and it was 1-1.

Montrose could then have knocked the stuffing out of Stoney, passing up one glorious chance as a cross shot from the right of the box drifted away from Imray but the incoming striker couldn’t divert it in at the back post.

With 20 minutes to go no-one would have bet that that would be Montrose’s last chance but Stoney brought on fresh legs to pep things up in a frantic contest. Gordon caught a volley from the edge of the box but it went straight into the keeper’s arms. Then Laing came on to dink in Sykes down the right. She beat a player but blazed inches over from six yards.

Sykes, who had earlier also blazed over from a cross, then made no mistake as Smith, Laing and Brown were all involved before Urquhart slid in a diagonal ball from left to right, bisecting Montrose’s centre backs, allowing Sykes to race in and prod home for a 1-2 lead to the visitors.

So Stoney held on to go level at the top of the table with their opponents – but one goal ahead on goal difference.

Manager Matt Smith said: “Today was a tremendous showing from the squad, every player stepped up to the plate, battled hard and we came away with the three points.”

Next up for Stoney is an away trip to Ross County on Sunday.

Stonehaven: Danni Imray, Charis Bowie (capt), Alannah Milne, Lisa Penny, Tyne Bradley, Nicola Caira, Rhona Blackhall, Lynsey Urquhart, Leanne Masson, Becca Conn, Elise Smith. Subs: Jemma Sykes, Anne Laing, Natalie Brown, Emily Grundy.