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REPORT | Belles 7 Leicester City Ladies 1

24 October 2022


REPORT | Belles 7 Leicester City Ladies 1

24 October 2022

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Belles progressed to the First Round Proper of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup in a game of two halves against a stubborn Leicester City Ladies side at the Iqbal Poultry stadium.

Manager Nick Buxton made five changes to the starting line-up that beat Sporting Khalsa last weekend, with Freya Rattenbury, Emily Cahill, Ryley Johnson, Sophie Brown and Shelbey Morris replacing injured or unavailable players.

Belles took the game to the visitors from the off as Nadia Khan - on her 75th appearance for the club - cut in from the left to beat three defenders and shoot over the bar. A minute later, Oti Laki got to the byline and her cross into the six-yard box just evaded the incoming Sophie Brown.

On ten minutes, Brown was unlucky not to give Belles the lead when she chased a ball into the box and although her shot beat Leicester keeper Helen Sugarman, it hit the inside of the post, ran across the face of goal and then out to safety for the visitors. On seventeen minutes playmaker Sophie Scargill fed in Khan on the left who then lined up Shelbey Morris on twelve yards, but she couldn’t get enough on her shot. The ball fell to Laki who made space but her powerful drive was well-held by Sugarman.

Belles kept up the pressure and on twenty-six minutes a Jess Andrew free-kick from 35 yards was turned over the bar by Sugarman. From the resultant corner Olivia Harness got her head to the ball but not enough to direct it on target. Four minutes later, Brown volleyed at point-blank range but Sugarman put her body on the line to block the shot which deflected over the bar. From the corner Harness was there again to meet it but this time her volley went wide of the post.

Belles were dominating possession but perhaps not doing enough to break down the visitors, who were working hard to close down play in the final third. It needed something special to break the frustrating deadlock and that arrived in the thirty-seventh minute when SOPHIE SCARGILL lashed in a fantastic strike from thirty-five yards that gave Sugarman no chance and Belles the lead they needed.

However, rather than letting that goal deflate them, Leicester started to push forward, and on forty minutes had a glorious opportunity to equalise with their first real attack when the Belles defence and keeper Ellie Sharpe somehow between them failed to clear a low cross into the box. The ball instead deflected to Lola Barrett with the goal gaping but she couldn’t get enough on her shot to put it into the net.

At the other end Brown was again unlucky to see her header hit the post, but it was the visitors who were causing some nervousness in the Belles backline and on the stroke of halftime, the referee awarded a penalty for a foul in the box. After a delay for an injury, HOLLIE HANDISIDES stepped up to put the ball to Sharpe’s right and level the scores at the break.

It was clear that Belles needed to start turning their dominance into goals if they were to progress in the competition, and the half-time team talk seemed to have worked when on fifty-two minutes Sugarman failed to deal with a Jess Andrew corner to the back post, leaving the advancing OLIVIA HARNESS to smash the ball home from two yards.

The home side was now moving the ball much more quickly and accurately which Leicester were finding more difficult to deal with. On fifty-seven minutes Belles went three up when Andrew intercepted a Leicester attack and moved the ball across the backline to Johnson on the right wing. Johnson played the ball inside to Scargill who then played a defence-splitting pass to the edge of the box for the advancing NADIA KHAN to take on and slide the ball past Sugarman into the bottom right hand corner.

Three minutes later Belles scored their fourth, when Rattenbuty fed Laki on the wing who then came through the defence on the right edge of the box and pulled the ball back for SOPHIE SCARGILL, whose deflected shot from eighteen yards wrong-footed Sugarman on its way into the net for her second of the game.

Belles were now in full flow and continued to exert pressure on the tiring visiting defence. On sixty-two minutes, Brown and Harness were replaced by Eliza Bedford and Sidni Simmons who was making her season’s debut, and on seventy minutes Johnson was replaced by Lily Wishart on the left, but not before Shelbey Morris had shot just wide and then Laki hit the bar with a shot from twenty-five yards.

On seventy-one minutes Belles went further ahead in fortunate circumstances but following an impressive build up, starting from Emily Cahill through Scargill to Khan on the right wing. Khan used her pace to beat her marker and crossed into the box for ELIZA BEDFORD to volley and hit the post, with the ball bouncing into the net off the back of the unlucky diving Sugarman. However, on eighty minutes there was nothing unfortunate about the sixth goal when Khan's cross went through to Wishart who then put the ball back in for OTANDEKA LAKI to score with a bullet header for her first goal for the club.

As the final whistle approached, Simmons played a great through-ball to Laki who was fouled in the box with the ref bringing back play for the penalty, which the impressive SOPHIE SCARGILL calmly dispatched to claim her first hat-trick for the Belles and to wrap up a 7-1 win through a much improved and relentless second-half performance.

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