Belles will be top of the tree at Christmas as a first half goal from Jess Price and a sensational second-half effort from Niamh Doody secured a 2-0 win against Solihull Moors in the final match of 2021.
Andy Butler’s side made it three wins on the bounce in the FA WNL to strengthen their grip on the league’s top spot.
It was a scrappy affair in heavy conditions, but the Belles showed quality when it mattered and got goals at good times to claim another important three points and keep pressure on Lincoln City Women in the title race.
Belles registered their first shot on target just before 20 minutes, the ball was worked to Jasmine Saxton but it was straight down the throat of ‘keeper Jodie Whiteman who held the shot well.
A few half chances followed: Hannah McWilliams slid a ball to Price but the striker – making her first start since October - wasn’t able to find space for a shot. Phoebe Sneddon sliced one from the edge of the box, while at the other end a rare foray into the Belles box for the visitors ended with Pippa Harmison completely miscuing a volley which floated harmlessly away from Ellie Sharpe's goal.
The visitors had a spell of pressure around the half-hour mark but blocks from Jess Andrew and Charlotte Dinsdale prevented shots from distance from troubling Sharpe, while willing running saw the players in red and white hoops blocking crosses over and over again.
Belles finished the half the better and McWilliams’ stunning through-ball with the outside of her foot perhaps deserved to end in a goal, but determined defending by the visitors saw Price crowded out as she tried to work a shot inside the area. McWilliams then went for goal herself but fired wide from distance.
Andy Butler’s side took a deserved lead with virtually the last kick of the half.
It began with another phenomenal pass from midfield – this time it was Phoebe Sneddon threading the pass – which found Saxton. The No.9 held the ball up well and slid in Price who took a touch around defender and slotted left-footed inside the far post.
The second half followed the same scrappy pattern as the first with combative football in the middle of the park rarely leading to chances for either team.
The first shot in anger of the second half came just before the hour-mark, Lindsey Tugby danced around a vicious challenge and picked out Saxton at the edge of the box. The No.9 was afforded time and space, but the shot floated over the crossbar.
The heaviness of the pitch began to tell as the match wore on with both sides showing sides of fatigue, but there was no lacking in effort or desire as Belles continued to slog away winning challenge after challenge against a dogged Moors.
The visitors had a period of pressure midway through the second half and created their best chance of the game in the 65th minute.
Harmison was played in down the right but she was forced wide by a sea of bodies in red and white hoops and smart defending allowed the Belles to win a goal kick and relieve the pressure.
Having seen out that period, Belles started to ease back control and dominate chances.
Saxton – whose work-rate probably deserved a goal - forced a save from Whiteman, and minutes later she selflessly cut a ball back across the face of goal which narrowly evaded the touch of Sophie Bell who had made a marauding run from right-back.
Left-back Izzy Trevillion was also in the action, nipping in front of her player to prevent the counter-attack but firing off target from distance.
Belles were given a golden opportunity to double their advantage from the spot with just over 15 minutes remaining. A slice of luck, perhaps, as Price slipped as she sent a hopeful ball forward, but Saxton chased it into the visitor’s box and was wiped out by the keeper Whiteman leaving the officials to point to the spot. Whiteman made up for her error though making a good stop down to her right to deny Jess Andrew from 12-yards.
Belles didn’t drop their heads though and immediately won the ball back high up the pitch and substitute Niamh Doody sealed the win when she hammered one in from 25 yards.
Bell could have made it three in the final stages as she continued to work hard up and down the right flank. She beat Layla Hart to a 50-50 ball but lifted a right-footed effort narrowly over the bar.
The victory sees Belles sign off 2021 with a win and claim top spot over Christmas.