Belles came from 2-0 down to win 4-3 in a remarkable season-opening game against Lincoln City Women at the LNER Stadium. In front of a record-breaking crowd of 1,003, Andy Butler’s side scored twice late on to seal the win.
Belles started nervously, and were on the backfoot as the hosts looked to impress in front of the large home support. After seven minutes a sloppy pass across the midfield was intercepted by Hardy who fed Robinson into the box, where she slipped the ball past the on-coming Sharpe into the bottom left-hand corner.
Things got worse on thirteen minutes when possession was lost trying to dribble the ball out from the back line, allowing Rousseau to take the ball on and score with a powerful shot from twenty yards. Lincoln were well on top with Belles struggling to get into the game, and were unlucky not to go three-up when Rousseau put a free header from eight yards past the post.
Belles noticeably improved with a change in formation following the drinks break. A series of chances followed as Khan and Wishart started to exploit space down the wings, feeding debutants Olivia Harness and Halima Essa who shot over and headed wide respectively.
At the other end, a Hardy shot from distance just cleared the bar, but it was Belles who were now dominating play, with the tenacious Lindsey Tugby increasingly influential in midfield. Sophie Brown had two great opportunities to score before on forty-four minutes she got third-time lucky and slotted the ball past the keeper to reduce the deficit.
After the half-time break, Belles continued where they left off, and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Wishart was clumsily bundled over in the box but the referee ignored the claims from the Belles’ bench and waved play on.
However, on seventy-one minutes, Belles’ pressure paid off and a penalty was awarded when Khan was pulled back in the box by former Belle Tilly Fantom with just the keeper to beat. Fantom was lucky to escape with a just a yellow card, and captain Jess Andrew converted into the top corner to bring the scores level at 2-2.
Imps responded almost immediately. A disputed free-kick twenty-five yards outside the box was superbly struck into the top right hand corner by Hardy, giving Sharpe no chance and restoring the lead for the hosts to the delight of their fans.
Belles then had more chances as the game entered the final quarter. Both Andrew and Wishart put free-kicks over the bar and third debutant Izzy Gigg - on as sub for Brown - broke into the box but fired straight at the keeper.
The game was to turn on its head approaching added time when Khan was again bundled over in the box, this time by Lincoln keeper Poppy Irvine. The referee initially showed the keeper a red card, but after discussion with his assistant overturned that decision and restored Irvine to the goal with a yellow. During this time Jess Andrew had been waiting patiently but was not phased by the delay and confidently passed the ball into the bottom left hand corner to level the scores at 3-3.
In a frenzied final few minutes, Imps had a shot saved and put a free-kick over the bar, but it was Belles who dramatically grabbed the win deep into added time when Essa took advantage of a mix up in the Lincoln defence to scramble a shot from the edge of the box that trickled over the line, to the jubilation of the Belles’ bench and travelling support.
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