'Best goalkeeping performances I think I have ever seen': Spartans boss on how her team stunned Celtic in SWPL Cup

Rachel Harrison had “one of the best goalkeeping performances” Debbi McCulloch has ever witnessed to steer Spartans to the SWPL Cup semi-finals in a stupendous victory over Celtic.

Now in her 13th campaign at the club, Harrison has always been a reliable goalkeeper giving her all for the cause. Going into Sunday’s quarter-final against Celtic, many would have expected the full-time Glasgow giants to inflict misery on the Edinburgh side. However, brilliance from Harrison ensured Spartans emerged victorious on penalties in dramatic fashion against 10-player Celtic. Louise Mason equalised for the visitors in the 93rd minute to make it 1-1. Celtic’s Lisa Robertson and Tegan Bowie missed their decisive spot kicks which allowed Robyn McCafferty to first Spartans through to the semi-finals. The Edinburgh side didn’t miss.

“No one expected us to win, expect us”, Spartans boss McCulloch’s team told Edinburgh Evening News. “We had a really strong game plan, the sending off obviously helped. Rachael Harrison had one of the best goalkeeping performances I think I have ever seen in my football career. We showed composure and resilience to be able to be clinical on penalties. That’s our second penalty shootout in three or four weeks and we haven’t missed one. It shows players are willing to step up and take responsibility in those big moments and aren’t afraid of them. “

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Harrison is one of the most experienced players at Spartans. Since signing for the club, she has travelled across the globe, enjoying spells on loan spells at Hellas Verona in Italy as well as Danish outfit Fortuna Hjorring. Last season she also became the first player to reach 200 appearances for Spartans. McCulloch knows Harrison’s presence gives confidence to the rest of the squad due her vast experience but also believes that giving her competition for her place has improved her performances.

“We’ve got quite a young dressing room so having players like Rachel and Becky [Galbraith], who are very experienced in the game... their knowledge and understanding of just managing moments are really key,” McCulloch explained. “For me, we have two of the best goalkeepers in the league in Rachel Harrison and Alisha Gates, who are competing extremely well against each other. They get on fantastically and really appreciate each other in training. It’s a really good situation for us in terms of us having that really solid foundation at the back to be able to build on and gives the defence, midfield and the attack confidence.

“Rachel pulled off some saves against Celtic that were absolutely remarkable. Unbelievable. At crucial moments she kept us in the game. To save the first penalty allows you to step up with confidence. She’s been a really key player for us in the cup.”

McCulloch hopes to keep hold Harrison for as long as possible as she gradually enters the peak of her career. She added: “Sometimes goalkeepers can sometimes play into their late 30s, and my hope is that Rachel can play with us for as long as she potentially can. I think it’s really key that when you get older you look after yourself more, that you recover better, and you do some addition things. Here at the club, we are able to support players who are slightly older and help their recovery process to make sure they can have a career in this sport for as long as they can.”

Goalkeeper Rachel Harrison was the Spartans heroine as her team defeated Celtic to reach the SWPL Cup semi-final. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS