Second half goals from Ryley Johnson, Sophie Brown and Nadia Khan sealed the win against visitors Lincoln City at the Iqbal Poultry Stadium.
Belles manager Nick Buxton named one change to his starting line-up, with Ryley Johnson replacing the unavailable Holly Housley, and bringing RTC graduate Abi Coley onto the bench for her first taste of first team football.
Looking to continue a seven game unbeaten run in the league, Belles were quickly on the attack as Sophie Scargill found Ryley Johnson in space on the right, but her shot was blocked. Moments later, Millie Barlow played in Scargill but Lincoln ‘keeper Poppy Irvine came out quickly to smother the danger. Five minutes later Irvine had to keep a watchful eye on a looping Johnson cross, collecting the ball on the goal line under pressure from Scargill, and minutes later Johnson put in another pinpoint cross this time to Barlow, who was unlucky to be just beaten to the header by the retreating defender.
Belles continued to shade the attacking play for the rest of the first quarter, but on twenty-five minutes Lincoln came into the game with a brace of efforts, the first of which was a Toni McHamilton free kick into the box that evaded everyone on its way out to safety, and then a strong goal-bound shot from the Lincoln number 12 that forced Belles ‘keeper Ellie Sharpe into a smart diving save.
However, Belles were in determined mood, with the backline of captain Jess Andrew, Izzy Trevillion and Freya Rattenbury soaking up the Lincoln pressure, and immediately hit back with a trio of corners in which Andrew and Izzy Gigg saw their headers deflected just wide, with Barlow blasting the third one over.
On thirty minutes the home side had a great chance to open the scoring when Nadia Khan made space down the left and crossed into the box for the unmarked Barlow on the six yard line, but her effort was straight at Irvine when anything to the side of the ‘keeper would have gone in. A few minutes later Lincoln had their best chance to take the lead when McHamilton got on the end of a long punt from Irvine and closed in on Sharpe, only to see her low shot go wide of the post.
With the game moving towards the interval the play evened itself out, but on the stroke of half-time the Belles’ wall did well to block a Leah Hardy free-kick, with Lindsey Tugby taking a little time to recover having borne the brunt of the shot.
In the second half Belles again started on the front-foot, with Gigg and the quietly efficient and Player Of The Match Emily Cahill in midfield increasingly frustrating the visitors’ attempts to put any meaningful passages of play together. Going forward, Belles were starting to find more space upfront and on fifty-two minutes had a great chance to take the lead when Khan latched on to a loose ball in the box but saw Irvine quickly get down to tip her low shot round the post.
Belles continued to press, with Lincoln being contained and only able to muster a free-kick that Sharpe collected comfortably, and on the hour took the lead in style when a Trevillion cross from the left was headed on by Scargill into the path of the advancing RYLEY JOHNSON, who volleyed spectacularly into the top corner from eighteen yards to score against her former club.
A few minutes later Nick Buxton made changes, bringing on Olivia Harness for Gigg and Sophie Brown for Barlow. On seventy-three minutes Lincoln survived a penalty scare when Khan appeared to be shoved in the back in the box by Tilly Fantom, but the ref waved play on.
Two minutes later, Buxton made a further change, bringing off Trevillion and handing sixteen years-old Abi Coley her first team debut. The substitutions then paid dividends as on seventy-eight minutes Belles doubled their advantage when Khan played in Coley in the box who rode a tackle and then turned to shoot. Her shot was blocked but fell to SOPHIE BROWN who made no mistake from six yards.
Six minutes later Coley was again involved as Belles all but settled the tie when she spotted the run of Khan into the box and chipped the ball in for NADIA KHAN to lob over the stranded Irvine into the net for her sixth of the season and Belles' third of the game.
Nick Buxton then made his final substitutions, bringing on Chloe Dean for Johnson and Khan being replaced by Shelbey Morris making her first appearance in three months. On eighty-seven minutes the impressive Coley nearly got on the scoresheet herself when she picked up on a loose ball out of Lincoln’s defence and shot powerfully just over the bar from twenty-yards.
That turned out to be the last meaningful effort of the game as Belles saw out the remaining minutes to notch up what was in the end a comfortable win on the back of a solid whole-team performance.
Team: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andrew ©, Trevillion (Coley 75), Cahill, Gigg (Harness 66), Tugby, Scargill, Johnson (Dean 80), Khan (Morris 85), Barlow (Brown 70).
Subs unused: -
Belles Scorers: Johnson (61), Brown (78), Khan (84)
Belles Player Of The Match: Emily Cahill