A late penalty converted by Belles captain Jess Andrew sealed the win in a tough match against local rivals Sheffield FC under the lights at the Iqbal Poultry stadium.
This was also the first game for Andy Butler’s side at their new venue, and the players were keen to impress in front of the sizable home support which included the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Thorne Moorends Town Council Councillors Craig Ellis and Susan Durant.
The match started off edgy, with both sides looking to play possession football and feed their strikers. Belles had the best of the early opening chances, as Sophie Brown broke through the visitors’ backline on three occasions but her shots were held comfortably by Leah Kellogg in the Sheffield goal.
As the half developed, the game settled into a stalemate, with both defences on top and limited goal opportunities for either side. Sheffield were yet to mount a serious attack when at the other end Halima Essa and Belles new signing Shannon Durkin came close, but again Kellogg was on hand to deny.
However, the deadlock was broken on thirty-seven minutes when Sheffield captain Tiana Hicks struck a superb shot from 35 yards over the despairing Ellie Sharpe and into the top corner of the net, giving Sheffield the lead with their first real attempt on goal.
Five minutes later though, Belles were not to be outdone and restored parity when Olivia Harness picked up a loose ball thirty-yards out and responded with a screamer of her own which dipped in under the crossbar giving Kellogg no chance, much to the delight of the home support. Belles then nearly took the lead on the half-time whistle when Andrew fired a free-kick from the touchline that just whistled past the post.
With both sides level at the break, the second half continued where the first had left off - a very tight, closely-fought game of few chances. On fifty-two minutes, play was stopped for some time due a serious injury to Sheffield captain Hicks, who had to be stretchered off.
Following the restart the stalement continued, with both sides continuing to cancel each other out, although Belles nearly went ahead when another Jess Andrew thirty-yarder free-kick had to be tipped onto the bar and away to safety by the outstretched Kellogg. As time started to run out, Andy Butler made changes to try and win the game by bringing on all five substitutes, including new signing Ryley Johnson and Eliza Bedford for their first-team debuts.
The game seemed to be destined for a draw until the final minute when good work by Bedford down the right saw her cross into the box inadvertently-handled by a Sheffield defender, with the referee having no hesitation to point to the spot. Having confidently put away two penalties last week at Lincoln, Andrew made no mistake this time around either to give Belles another late lead and to take the three points, much to the jubilation of the home bench and supporters.
Belles travel to Solihull Moors on Sunday 4th September, and are back in action at the Welfare ground when they entertain Merseyrail FC in the FA WNL League Cup Determining Round.
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