The Belles put in a strong performance but were ultimately defeated in their first game of pre-season away at West Bromwich Albion Women on Sunday.
Zoey Shaw’s side travelled to the West Midlands to face last seasons FAWNL Division One Midlands champions at Walsall Wood, but there would be no real signs throughout about who was the side in the higher division.
Shaw brought in new signings Kirsty Johnson, Chloe Starling and Sophie Scargill to start, with the returning Lauren Breen taking the captain’s armband for this season.
It was the Baggies who had the brighter start, and it wouldn’t be long before debutant Johnson in the Belles’ goal was called into action, saving two shots in quick succession to keep the hosts at bay.
Isabella Trevillion then had to be alert from a Baggies corner over on the left, with the full-back making a goal-line clearance to deny West Brom an opener once again.
The Baggies’ right-midfielder was the creator of most things going forward for the hosts, and she chipped the ball just over Johnson’s crossbar after a ball over the top from their next attack.
The hosts took the lead as the first half reached the half-way point, with the Baggies’ number 10 getting to the ball ahead of Johnson, rounding the keeper to slot home into the empty net for the opening goal.
The Belles responded well though and were almost level on the half-hour mark.
Skipper Breen reacted well to a mix-up between a central defender and the home goalkeeper to shoot on goal, only to see her shot crash away off the post.
The hosts would then hit the crossbar with a free-kick from 40 yards out, with the rebound being put into the back of the net, only for it to be ruled out for offside.
The disallowed goal boosted the Belles’ hopes, and five minutes later they would be level.
Breen’s ball over the top was fed into the path of Abby Watkinson, and as she bared down on goal, she slotted calmly under the on-rushing Baggies stopper to level the scores 10 minutes before the break.
After the interval it would be the Belles who started the better, with their first chance coming inside the first 30 seconds of the second period.
Breen was quickest to react to a loose ball and shot on goal, only to see the Baggies stopper turn the ball behind the post for a corner superbly.
Breen would then go close shortly afterwards, working space well down the left-hand side to shoot across goal, this time seeing her shot flash wide of the far post.
Another new addition Tori Thomas showed some defensive brilliance to deny the hosts a certain goal, putting in a last-ditch tackle at the expense of a corner to stop the hosts from slotting the ball into the empty net after Johnson had been left stranded two-on-one.
From the resulting corner, Johnson was at full-stretch to deny the Baggies from going ahead once more, with a shot from the edge of the box looking destined to find the top corner before the experienced goalkeeper clawed the ball away.
However, it wouldn’t be long before the hosts did regain the lead, with a ball over from the left-hand side finding an attacker at the back post, and she was able to head down into the near corner to put the Baggies back in front shortly after the hour.
The Belles worked hard in tough conditions towards the end of the game, with Breen having two late efforts to try and force the equaliser, but ultimately it wasn’t to be for Zoey Shaw’s side who can take plenty of positives from the performance.
Next up for the Belles is a trip to last season’s FAWNL Division One North champions Burnley Women at the home of Padiham FC next Sunday at 2:00pm.