A home debut goal from Leah Hardy, a Jess Andrew penalty and strikes from Oti Laki and Sophie Brown earned Belles the three points in a fractious game at the Iqbal Poultry stadium.
On a cold and damp day in Moorends, it took time for both sides to adapt to the heavy pitch, and after a early period of no real dominance and a lengthy stoppage for an injury, it was the visitors who seemed to settle first to the conditions when on twelve minutes Belles keeper Ellie Sharpe had to come out to block a low shot from Katie Gibbons. Two minutes later Gibbons was again there to meet a cross to the back post, but this time her shot went high and wide.
A minute later Belles responded when Olivia Harness pumped a long ball forward for Lindsay Tugby to chase down the right. Tugby cut inside and with a neat reverse pass played in Leah Hardy who beat her marker in the box and shot low across the face of goal, only to see the ball skim the outside of the far post with Bethany Cottrell in the away goal beaten.
However, it was the visitors who continued to make the better of the play, and Harness had to be brave in the header from a Leek corner which saw her clash heads with her opponent, for which play was again stopped. In a stop-start game, a neat passing build-up by Leek then found Katie Maya on the edge of the box and Sharpe had to get down swiftly to smother her low goal-bound shot.
The game was to turn on thirty-seven minutes when Leek no 10 Chantelle Gallagher received her marching orders following two swift yellow cards, the second for a disgraceful kick to the ribs of Emily Cahill. There followed some unsavoury scenes and language as the decision was challenged by both the player and the Leek bench, with the game being further held up until order was eventually restored by the officials.
With the visitors down to ten players, Belles took full advantage and on forty-one minutes opened the scoring when Harness played the ball out to Khan on the right who then crossed for LEAH HARDY to volley superbly into the bottom corner of the net from twelve yards for her third goal in two games.
Izzy Trevillion had been replaced by Freya Rattenbury just before half-time for an injury, and just after the restart Belles doubled their advantage when Shannon Durkin was bundled over in the box, with captain JESS ANDREW calmly dispatching the spot-kick. There was nearly a third moments later when a through ball by Holly Housley found Durkin, but her shot was blocked by Cottrell with the rebound falling to the in-coming Hardy who could only hit the post with the goal gaping.
Belles now started to dominate the attacks and looked to get the ball forward at the earliest opportunity. However the Leek backline was holding firm and helped by Belles’ front line being caught offside on a number of occasions. Even though being a player down, Leek were still in the game and looking to create chances of their own, with Sharpe again having to be alert, this time mostly to shots from distance.
On sixty-eight minutes Nick Buxton replaced Durkin with Oti Laki, and ten minutes later the Ugandan international got on the scoresheet with a goal of her own making when she chased down a through ball which Catterell had to rush to clear. The clearance was won back by POTM Izzy Gigg and passed up to Hardy. who turned and played an inch-perfect ball in behind the defender for OTI LAKI to run onto, hold off the defender’s challenge, and then pass the ball into the corner of the net from eight yards.
With the game seemingly won. Nick Buxton made three more changes, bringing on Chloe Dean, Halima Essa and Sophie Brown to replace Harness, Cahill and Khan. There was a further chance for Hardy who couldn’t quite get her foot round an Otis Laki cross, but it was SOPHIE BROWN who wrapped up the points on ninety minutes when she received a ball from Tugby on the edge of the box and executed an exquisite lob over Cattrell for her second goal of the season and the fourth in a game that will unfortunately be remembered as much for some unwanted and unsavoury behaviour contrary to the spirit of the game as well as some great goals.