Belles put in a valiant performance in sweltering weather against a well-organised Stockport County side as they fell to a 5-0 defeat in their opening pre-season match of 2021/22.
The match kicked off with the heat in the high 20s and the temperature barely dipped throughout the game making for extremely tough conditions for the 14 Belles players in the squad.
Despite starting the game on the front foot and creating the opening chance when Sophie Bell’s cross nearly crept in, a goal on the break for Stockport County after just seven minutes was to set the tone for the afternoon. There was an element of misfortune with the first goal as Freya Mai Rattenbury’s tackle fell kindly to the host’s No.10 who was able to slot into an empty net.
Most of what was good for the home side went through their No.10 and she could have registered a hat-trick with the number of chances which fell her way in the first half. She was unable to capitalise after beating the offside trap my the narrowest of margins and rounding the onrushing Ellie Sharpe but did get a second when she chipped the keeper beautifully after a defensive header back was left short.
Belles forged a few first half chances. Jess Andrew’s effort from distance was off target while Jess Price tested the keeper when a through ball found her run in behind the defence, and Lauren Breen fired over the bar on the half-time whistle.
Stockport County flew out of the traps in the second half and had doubled their lead through goals by No.11 and No.8 in quick succession.
Belles registered their first challenge after ten minutes from an indirect freekick won after the keeper handled a back pass and quickly followed up with a second when Lilly Harrison’s shot-cum-cross required saving at the near post. Harrison had another half-chance as she won a footrace with the Stockport centre back, but a last-ditch tackle kept her from getting the shot away and Kirsty Smith’s fierce delivery from a corner-kick was headed just wide by Charlotte Dinsdale.
With 15 minutes remaining, the hot conditions and lack of match fitness began to tell for the Belles who had been without the ball for much of the second period. Despite that, the work rate and effort didn’t drop, and it took a really excellent bit of the play from the hosts to get the fifth.
A neat bit of individual play from No.10 which ended with a perfectly weighted cross-field pass picked out the winger who pinged the ball from 25 yards giving Sharpe no chance and completing a 5-0 victory.