A controlled volley by Holly Housley sealed the points in a scrappy local derby against Sheffield FC at The Home Of Football Stadium in Dronfield.
In the first of two league games in four days, Belles were looking to extend their seven-game unbeaten run as well as close the gap on leaders Stourbridge. Hosts Sheffield had won their previous two games in their bid to steer clear of the relegation zone
On a heavy and bobbly pitch, the opening exchanges were even as both sides looked to settle into their stride. On ten minutes a Holly Housley free-kick was played into Lindsey Tugby, who then chipped the ball into the box, with Leah Kellogg in the Sheffield goal just beating Sophie Scargill to the ball on the six yard line.
Belles started to see more of the ball and on fourteen minutes could have taken the lead when Mollie Barlow forced Sheffield to lose possession out on the wing. Housley then whipped in a cross that Scargill directed goalwards with a powerful header, only to see Kellogg tip over the bar with a superb one-handed reaction save.
Moments later on fifteen minutes Belles did take the lead when Barlow flicked on a Freya Rattenbury throw-in to Nadia Khan. Khan went to the by-line and put in a teasing cross that was met on the edge of the box by HOLLY HOUSLEY with a superbly controlled volley that Kellogg could only watch go over her head and into the net.
Sheffield looked to hit back, with Ellie Sharpe having to recover to collect a long punt into the box. However, Belles’ backline was holding firm and able to soak up the home attack, with Emily Cahill and Izzy Gigg in the centre of the pitch breaking up the play and forcing the home side onto the defensive.
On twenty-six minutes Belles nearly went two up when Rattenbury, Barlow and Khan again combined down the right, with Khan seeing her cross to the backpost come off the cross bar and out to safety for the hosts. Six minutes later, Tugby put in a dangerous cross to the back post for the unmarked Scargill, but Kellogg was out quickly to smother the danger.
Sheffield again came back into the game, and on thirty-seven minutes had their first shot on goal, but Sharpe was down comfortably to collect. However, as half time approached they had been unable to put the Belles' defence under any sustained pressure, instead having to deal with Belles countering quickly on the break. Just before the whistle Belles suffered a blow when Housley went off injured, and was replaced by Ryley Johnson.
The second half continued where the first had left off, with Sheffield looking to get back into the game but up against a determined defence marshalled by captain Jess Andrew alongside Rattenbury and the quietly effective Izzy Trevillion. Despite their increased possession, the hosts were still unable to convert this into clear cut chances, mostly relying on the pace of Mollie Waite to get the ball forward down the wings and into the box.
The play started to become scrappy, particularly in the centre where both midfields were cancelling each other out, but it was Belles on seventy-three minutes who had the best chance of the half and to also wrap up the game when a clearance by Khan from a Sheffield free-kick found Barlow on the left. Barlow took the ball on and played in Tugby on the edge of the box with just the advancing Kellogg to beat, but her first touch took her slightly wide with the resultant shot going well past the post.
Follwing that attack, Belles started to press more, enjoying an increasing number of attacks from free-kicks and corners, but to no advantage. On eight-four minutes, Barlow and Gigg were replaced by Sophie Brown and Olivia Harness, immediately using their physical presence to put further pressure on the hosts.
As the game moved into added time, Brown did particularly well to keep the ball in the far right corner to run down the clock, with the final whistle being blown shortly afterwards to seal a gritty win and keep Belles well in the promotion race.
Team: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andrew ©, Trevillion, Cahill, Gigg (Harness 84 mins), Tugby, Scargill, Housley(Johnson 45 mins), Khan, Barlow (Brown 84 mins).
Subs unused: Dean, Morris
Belles: Housley 15 mins
Belles Player Of The Match: Lindsey Tugby