A late strike by captain Jess Andrew saw Belles come from behind to claim a point away at Northampton Town FC Women.
With players unavailable due to injuries, Belles manager Nick Buxton brought Freya Rattenbury and Chloe Dean back into the starting eleven, with Eliza Bedford and then Lindsey Tugby joining the bench having passed a late fitness test.
On a bumpy and uneven pitch, the hosts kicked off down the slope and with the breeze at their backs. Following an uneventful opening period in which both teams struggled to find any rhythm, Belles had their first chance of the game on eight minutes when Abi Coley found Holly Housley on the edge of the box, but she put her looping effort wide of the post. Two minutes later, Belles 'keeper Ellie Sharpe comfortably collected a direct shot on goal from a Northampton free-kick out on the right.
The pitch was turning out to be a leveller, making the bounce of the ball difficult to judge and control. Combined with misplaced passes and the ball being moved forward at pace by both teams, the game progressed without any real pattern, although on fourteen minutes Housley did well to get on the end of a Chloe Dean low cross, cutting inside to shoot just wide from ten yards. Moments later Dean tried her luck from distance with a looping shot that also went wide.
Northampton then started to come into the game, taking advantage of the slope and breeze, with Jade Bell getting on the end of a forward ball and rounding the advancing Sharpe. However, Freya Rattenbury did well to force Bell out of play and cut out the danger.
Bell should have given the hosts the lead on twenty-one minutes when a long punt downfield by 'keeper Jo Daniel was headed on over the Belles' defence into her path, but Sharpe did well to come out and narrow the angle, with Bell's shot missing the far post by inches. Four minutes later, hesitation in the Belles' back line let in Alex Dicks, but she put her shot over the bar.
On thirty-one minutes Housley was taken out following a clumsy challenge on the edge of the Northampton box. However the ref waved play on, only to bring it to a halt moments later to allow treatment for the injured wing-back. On resumption of play, Northampton continued to press and Sharpe had to be alert to collect a shot at the near post from Kim Farrow. On forty-three minutes the hosts had their final opportunity of the half to take a lead into the break when a cross into the box fell to captain Zoe Boote ghosting in at the back post, but Sharpe again did well to get across to block the shot.
In the second half Belles looked to take advantage of the slope, immediately putting the home side under pressure in the opening moments with Abi Coley getting round the back of the defence and seeing her cross cleared away. However, it was the hosts who had the best opening chance when Dicks latched onto a through ball and did well to dribble her way into the box, only to see her shot just clear the crossbar.
Belles responded with Coley again involved, this time putting in a teasing ball from the right across the six yard line that Daniel collected under pressure. On fifty-eight minutes Sophie Scargill went on a surging run from midfield only to be deliberately upended as she approached the box. Housley's follow up free-kick was not enough to test Daniel in the home goal, with the injured Scargill being replaced by Lindsey Tugby.
Belles were now having most of the play, with Northampton looking to counter on the break but coming up against Emily Cahill and the Belles' backline. On sixty-six minutes Coley put another corner into the six yard box, with Mollie Barlow coming in at the back post unluckily unable to connect cleanly for her shot.
However, the hosts were literally handed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock on seventy minutes when Olivia Harness was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box whilst challenging for the ball, but to the dismay of the home support Kim Farrow put the resultant penalty well-wide of the post.
Belles manager Nick Buxton made an immediate attacking substitution, bringing on Sophie Brown for Chloe Dean, with the striker only just beaten to a through ball, to be followed by a lob from Izzy Gigg that went wide of the bar. On seventy six minutes Shelbey Morris replaced Barlow as Buxton pushed for the winner, with Brown heading over from a Coley free-kick from the right.
However, the hosts were still dangerous on the break and it needed a fantastic last-ditch tackle from Rattenbury to prevent Bell getting her shot off from close range after the striker had done well to work her way into the box, and despite Belles' pressure it was the hosts who were to take the lead on eighty-one minutes in disputed circumstances.
As Abbie Brewin advanced into the Belles' box, she appeared to slice the ball out of play under pressure from Jess Andrew. However, the assistant referee on that side adjudged that the ball had come off Andrew's boot and awarded the corner, from which VICKY BARRETT subsequently headed Northampton into the lead.
Belles needed a response as the game went into the final phase, and with two minutes of normal time remaining Brown was put through to be closed down by the advancing Daniel. As the ball rebounded out of the box, both players chased it with Daniel fouling Brown and the ref awarding a free-kick. Abi Coley elected to shoot direct at goal, with Daniel on the goal line only parrying the ball, which fell to captain JESS ANDREW at the back post to gratefully slot home.
As the game entered added-time Belles pushed for the winner with Brown doing well down the right to force late corners, but the hosts held on to ensure the spoils were shared, with Belles maintaining their second place in the league and two-point differential over Northampton in third.
Team: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andrew ©, Harness, Housley, Cahill, Gigg, Scargill (Tugby 58 mins), Dean (Brown 70 mins), Coley, Barlow (Morris 76 mins).
Subs unused: Bedford
Belles Player Of The Match: Abi Coley