It was a proverbial game of two halves for the Belles who lost 5-3 to Durham Cestria in a pre-season friendly at Oxford Street.
Belles held a 2-1 lead at half time with goals from Jasmine Saxton and Sophie Scargill putting the home side 2-0 up within 12 minutes. Andy Butler’s side were unable to retain their dominance early dominance, however, and the visitors began to get more and more of the ball eventually getting one back just before half time after a series of good stops by Ellie Sharpe had kept them at bay.
High numbers of substitutions and rotations made for a stop-start second half in which the Belles struggled to re-capture their first half form. They were hit by two quick goals – one a stunning strike from distance, the other a header from close range – which turned the game on its head, but the match was put beyond them when they conceded two late penalties both of which were converted.
Lauren Breen did get a third for the Belles later on when she drove through the middle of the park and fired beyond the visiting keeper but it was too late for Belles to mount a comeback and the match finished 5-3.
Belles got off to a blistering start in their first match at Oxford Street for several months. The midfield diamond found plenty of time and space in the middle of the park early on and were threading excellent passes through to forwards Saxton and Jess Price.
The strikers were consistently making runs off the shoulders of the Cestria defence causing all sorts of problems for the visitors. The first chance came within five minutes when Price was narrowly beaten to a through ball by shot-stopper Brook McCain but the visitors did not learn their lesson and minutes later a similar ball found the run of Saxton who gave her side the lead.
The Belles No.9 coolly rounded the onrushing keeper and slotted home under the challenge of a defender.
Just three minutes later Belles had doubled their lead – this time it was Price who got on the end of the ball in behind defence. She drove along the by-line before cutting it back to Scargill who was able to tap in from less than a yard.
Another chance fell Belles’ way when the ball was cleared kindly to Scargill on the edge of the box, but her effort was blocked.
A break in play to deal with a problem for one of the visiting players put a stop to Belles dominance and Durham played their way back into the game and began to dominate possession but found shot-stopper Ellie Sharpe in formidable form.
She first denied Erin Nelson from 18 yards when the forward got into a good position between the Belles centre backs and was picked out by an equally good cross field pass to release her into a shooting position.
Minutes later, Sharpe denied Amy Hargrave when the midfielder volleyed on target connecting well with a free kick whipped into the back post and she showed good reactions to claim Ellen Turnbull’s deflected effort.
Nelson continued to prove a real handful, getting into good positions and would have been through again if Sharpe hadn’t read the danger brilliantly and sprinted off her line to collect the ball.
The keeper could do nothing about Durham’s goal however. Once again, the chance came from good play by Nelson who bullied her way past Trevillion and drove along the by-line drawing defender and keeper to the near post. The cut-back was tapped in from close range by Jordan Atkinson just before half-time.
There were a number of changes for the Belles at half time as manager Andy Butler made full use of the squad and the rolling subs rule, so it was unsurprising that it was the visitors who settled more quickly. It was equally unsurprising that Nelson would be involved in the visitor’s early chance. Her cross from the right was volleyed over from close range by Jess Mett.
At the other end, the Belles had a couple of half chances. Jess Andrew rolled one wide 18-yards and Chloe Dean looped one over from distance before Nelson sent a fierce strike on target forcing a great save from Belles’ trialist keeper.
The trialist keeper could do nothing to prevent the equaliser, however, Hannah Greenwood’s unstoppable effort from distance flew like an arrow into the top corner. The visitors completed the turn around three minutes later when Nelson’s cross from the right was headed in on the line by Jess Mett.
The victory was compounded as Belles conceded two late penalties both of which were confidently converted 12-yards by Jen Knowles.
Belles would get on the scoresheet for the final time with around three minutes remaining. Lauren Breen burst through the middle of the field and sent a fierce effort goalward. McCain did get a hand to it, but she was unable to keep the ball out of the net.
Belles will travel to Sheffield FC on Thursday August 5 as they continue their pre-season preparations.