Belles bowed out of the FAWNL League Cup main competition with defeat at home to FAWNL Div 1 North opponents Merseyrail Ladies FC.
Manager Nick Buxton was looking for Belles to progress past the Determining Round for the first time since relegation to Tier 4 in 2019, though injuries meant there were changes to the starting line up that thumped Long Eaton United 9-0 the previous weekend.
The hosts had the first opportunity after four minutes with a dangerous corner that the visiting keeper Danielle Camp did well to clear under pressure. The visitors started to come into the game and had their first real chance on twelve minutes when Jodie Mortimer started a move from the halfway line and continued her run to receive the ball on the edge of the box, but her low shot was straight at Georgia Wattam in the Belles’ goal, who collected comfortably.
Merseyrail continued to set the early pace, with further chances that the home defence did well to nullify. However, despite having their share of possession themselves, Belles were struggling to develop any meaningful attacks as the visitors were quick to close down and disrupt their build-ups, not helped by some uncharacteristic errors in Belles’ passing play.
On twenty-nine minutes Merseyrail took the lead when a corner to the back post led to a scramble in the six yard box, with Gemma Lancaster managing to stab the ball home through a forest of legs. The visitors continued to attack with purpose, with a couple of shots clearing the crossbar. However, Belles started to grow into the game and on thirty-eight minutes had their first meaningful attempt on goal when Nadia Khan picked up the ball forty yards out, dribbled through a couple of defenders but then saw her shot saved.
In the second half Belles continued their improvement, and on forty-eight minutes were desperately unlucky not to level the score when an astute long ball into the box by Sophie Scargill fell perfectly for Shannon Durkin to run onto and lob Camp, but the keeper just got enough of a hand on the ball to stop it going into the net and managed to scramble back to deny the in-rushing Khan on the line.
Play then ebbed and flowed for the next fifteen minutes with very few chances, as much of either side’s play being cancelled out in the opposite final third. Belles had certainly improved their passing game, with Scargill and Olivia Harness becoming increasingly influential, and on fifty-nine minutes could have leveled again with a typical thirty-yard shot from Harness that just skimmed the crossbar with Camp stranded.
However, Belles fell further behind on seventy-five minutes when Charlotte Cloy picked up on a hurried clearance out of defence and had time and space to shoot into the bottom corner from twenty-yards. This galvanised the visitors, and Wattam had to be on her toes to first collect a dangerous low cross from Cloy and then atone for a misplaced goal kick by pulling off a great save to deny Grimes.
Belles started to push forward again, with good work by Holly Housley and Khan down the left allowing Khan to cut in and fire off a shot that Camp had to be alert to and take off the toes of the incoming substitute Eliza Bedford. On eighty-eight minutes Belles did finally get on the score sheet and in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Good build up play around the box found Chloe Dean out on the right, and as Camp went to collect her hopeful punt into the box, she totally misjudged it allowing the ball to pass through her legs and into the net.
With the home support getting behind their team, Belles pushed for the equaliser as the game went into added time, but the visitor’s defence held firm on to claim the win and progress into the next round. Belles now enter the Plate version of the League Cup, with the draw to be made in the next few days.