Belles will appear in the Final of the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Cup for the first time in thirteen years thanks to a determined display and a headed goal from Player Of The Match Holly Housley.
Belles manager Nick Buxton kept the same starting line up that had beaten Leafield Athletic in the league last week, with Shelbey Morris making a return to the bench following recovery from injury.
In front of the second-highest attendance of the season, Belles started the game strongly and on seven minutes had the first chance of the game when Nadia Khan won the ball and fed Izzy Gigg, who then went on a strong and direct run past two defenders into the box, only to see her cross just elude Mollie Barlow at the back post.
For the next ten minutes, the game ebbed and flowed with no real outcome, but the work rate of the Belles’ midfield started to bear fruit and on seventeen minutes Gigg was there again to win the ball back in midfield and drive the play forward into the box where she was crowded out before being able to get a shot off. The ball then came out to Holly Housley on the left, whose cross to the back post was just too high for the in-coming Mollie Barlow to get a firm header on.
Belles continued to apply the pressure and on twenty-four minutes Freya Rattenbury broke up a Barnsley attack, passing to Sophie Scargill who played in Khan down the right wing. Khan used her pace to surge forty yards past her marker and into the box, but the Barnsley goalkeeper Serena Clarke was alert to the danger and able to claim the ball on the six yard line before Khan could finish the move off.
Up to this point Barnsley had rarely threatened Belles’ ‘keeper Ellie Sharpe, but two minutes later the visitors thought they should have had a penalty when, following a free kick into the box, a player went down in the box under pressure, but seemingly losing control of the ball which was then put out for a corner. The Reds then enjoyed a longer spell of possession, but found it difficult to create any more chances with just a twenty-five yard long shot sailing over the crossbar to show.
Belles again pushed forward, as Khan with her back to goal swiveled and volleyed just wide from twelve yards. Five minutes Belles had a penalty shout of their own, when Khan appeared to be tripped in the box, but the ref waved play on and Scargill put her follow-up shot over the bar.
The game was turning out to be fiercely competitive, especially in midfield where Emily Cahill was working hard to break up play and Lindsey Tugby back to her busy and creative best. On forty-two minutes Belles deservedly took the lead from a succession of corners when Tugby whipped in the ball to the near post for HOLLY HOUSLEY to head in from a tight angle.
At half-time, Sophie Brown replaced Barlow who was feeling unwell, and on fifty-four minutes, Brown found herself unmarked on the six-yard to meet a teasing cross across the face of goal from the hard-working Khan, but with just the ‘keeper to beat the cross was just too high and the danger was cleared.
The visitors started to enjoy more of the play as they pushed for the equaliser, spending an increasing amount of time in Belles’ half. However, they were up against some resolute defending and midfield tenacity – particularly from Gigg – with Belles looking to use Brown’s strength to counter-attack on the break.
On sixty-eight minutes Izzy Trevillion was replaced by Olivia Harness, and from a subsequent corner Belles were relieved to see the ball fly through the crowded penalty area without an attacker getting a touch. Despite their increased possession the visitors were still to seriously trouble Sharpe, and at the back were relieved to find Brown offside with just the ‘keeper to beat when played through by Scargill.
As the game entered the final quarter, Barnsley started to turn possession in to chances, with Sharpe first having to be alert to collect a goal-bound shot from the edge of the box, and then a big let off for Belles on seventy-seven minutes when a header from a corner hit the crossbar with Khan on hand on the post to block the resultant shot from the rebound.
However, moments later, Belles could have wrapped up the win - or Barnsley gone down to ten players - when Brown charged down a Clarke clearance. Clarke recovered enough to play the ball across the face of the penalty area, but Gigg beat a defender to the ball and was brought down, with Clarke struggling to get back in position and the goal gaping. After consultation with his assistant, the referee awarded Belles a free kick but with no card shown to the visitors.
The game continued on a knife-edge as the clock ticked down to the final whistle, with the visitors pushing to take the tie to extra-time and Belles applying a high press to close their build up play down. On eighty-one minutes Belles had another chance to seal the win when a Jess Andrew free-kick was headed out to Khan who then volleyed a goal-bound shot from eight yards, but Clarke was right behind it and able to collect safely.
Nick Buxton replaced Brown with Ryley Johnson, pushing Khan upfront, and as the game went into added-time, Barnsley nearly leveled the tie but were superbly denied by Sharpe who was able to recover back on to her line to palm away a goal-bound lob from under the crossbar. Despite Clarke joining in the subsequent corner, Belles again held firm to seal the win and progress to the final of the competition, to the jubilation of the players and home supporters.
Team: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andrew ©, Trevillion (Harness 68 mins), Cahill, Gigg, Tugby, Scargill, Housley, Khan, Barlow (Brown 46, Johnson mins ). Brown replaced by Johnson on 85 mins.
Subs unused: Durkin, Morris
Belles: Housley 42 mins
Belles Player Of The Match: Holly Housley