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REPORT | Belles 0 Huddersfield 3

14 November 2022


REPORT | Belles 0 Huddersfield 3

14 November 2022

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Belles crashed out of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup at the 1st Round Proper stage in what was a difficult afternoon at home against Northern Premier Division side Huddersfield Town Women.

Belles manager Nick Buxton was forced to make late changes to his starting line up due to illness and unavailability, and his side found it tough going against strong Tier 3 opposition who ultimately punished Belles for some lax marking.

Following an impeccably-observed Remembrance Day ceremony, Belles were under pressure from the off, and on five minutes went behind far too easily when an unchallenged cross from Kate Mallin from the right was met at the far post by Laura Elford to head – equally unchallenged - into the empty net.

In front of the highest attendance of the season, Belles looked to get back into the game, with Oti Laki and Shannon Durkin offering options up front, but finding it difficult to break through against a well-organised Terriers defence. On thirteen minutes, Belles had their first real opportunity when captain Jess Andrew fired a thirty-five yard free-kick goalwards that skimmed the top of the crossbar, causing Lauren Joyce in the away goal some momentary concern.

Huddersfield however were quickly closing the play down and making it difficult for Belles to get their passing game going - not further helped by the home side giving away possession in dangerous areas, and on seventeen minutes they were lucky to see a Britt Sanderson shot clear the bar after the visitors pounced on a weak clearance out of defence.

Despite the nervousness in their play, Belles nearly leveled on twenty-six minutes, when Ryley Johnson lobbed a ball to the edge of the box for Izzy Gigg to loop over Joyce and onto the underside of the bar, only to see it bounce down and out to safety for the visitors. Four minutes later though, Belles were again their own worst enemy when Belles keeper Ellie Sharpe had to deal with a poor back pass and was grateful to see her clearance richochet off Serena Fletcher and drop just over the bar with the net gaping.

In a game of few notable chances and on a greasy pitch, it looked as if Belles would go in at halftime with just the one goal deficit. However, with seconds left to play before the break, Huddersfield won a corner from which they doubled their advantage, as Autumn Housley lost her marker to meet the cross and slide the ball in at the back post.

In the second half Belles needed to up their game and cut out the mistakes if they were to have any chance of progressing in the competition, but it was Huddersfield who came out the stronger after half time as they looked to kill the game off. However, Belles rode that pressure and started to respond and get the ball up the field through the tenacious work of Cahill, Scargill and particularly Gigg in midfield. 

On fifty-six minutes Durkin and Johnson were replaced by Chloe Dean and Lindsey Tugby which seemed to introduce more energy into the play, but the final ball through to Laki and now Khan upfront was still lacking in quality, or, when taken on by the front two, their runs at goal were quickly smothered by the Huddersfield defence.

Belles still had to be mindful at the back, with Player of The Match Jess Andrew working hard to break up Huddersfield’s attacking play. However when Olivia Harness was dispossessed on the edge of the box on sixty-three minutes, it looked as if the visitors would wrap the game up as Sanderson struck a fierce shot goalwards, only for Sharpe to keep Belles in it by saving at full stretch to her right.

Nick Buxton made his third and final change on sixty-six minutes, replacing Freya Rattenbury with Amy Nowell who was making her debut, but one minute later the Terriers got the decisive third goal they needed in somewhat fortunate circumstances: an attacking build up on the edge of the Belles’ box fell to Kiera Heslam, whose low shot through a forest of legs was going wide until a deflection off a Belles player saw it creep in at the far post instead.

With the game now seemingly lost, Belles looked to at least gain a consolation goal and in this period put together some of their better moves of the game. On eighty minutes, a strong solo run by Laki into the box saw her brought down by an equally strong challenge, but to the dismay of the home crowd the referee adjudged that the ball had been fairly won and waived play on.

A few minutes later the referee brought the game to a close and the end of Belles’ involvement in the FA Cup for another year. On balance it was a relatively comfortable win for Huddersfield and perhaps a game to reflect on, learn from, and move on from for the Belles.

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