Belles fell to defeat for the first time in ten games, losing away to Stourbridge FC in FAWNL Division 1 Midlands.
In a game of few chances, it was the home side who capitalised on two second-half opportunities to increase their points lead over Belles at the top of the table.
Belles manager Nick Buxton made one change to the squad that beat Lincoln the previous weekend, with Holly Housley returning from injury going into the starting line-up and Ryley Johnson dropping to the bench.
After an unsettled opening few minutes, it was Stourbridge who had the first chance in the seventh minute when a throw-out from Belles’ ‘keeper Ellie Sharpe was anticipated by Hannah Fishwick on the edge of the box. Sharpe then had to get down smartly to turn Fishwick’s low shot into the side netting.
Four minutes later Belles had their first attack when Emily Cahill found Nadia Khan out on the right wing. Khan pushed the ball past her marker with ease and advanced into the box, her cross just evading Sophie Scargill and falling to Holly Housley, who was closed down before she could get her shot away.
The hosts then pushed forward, with Mil Rogers trying her luck with a goal-bound shot from twenty yards that Sharpe collected at full stretch at the foot of the post. Belles hit back as Izzy Gigg took the ball down the line and did well under pressure to cross and find Mollie Barlow in the box, who then set up the in-coming Scargill and Housley but again their shots were blocked.
Following a stoppage for injury the game then entered a period of ebb and flow in which the quality of the football improved, with both midfields looking to build through passages of intricate passing play. However, defences were still very much on top leading to no efforts on goal apart from a snatched shot on the half-hour from Barlow that went well wide.
That changed three minutes later when Freya Rattenbury was adjudged to have handled just outside the box as Stourbridge looked to break, but Niamh Deasy put the subsequent free-kick well wide. At the other end, Amie Preston was quick off her line to claim a Jess Andrew free-kick and deny Scargill at close quarters. For the hosts Zoe Clark then put a header over the bar from a corner to the near post. Following that short burst of goal action, the game then returned to a pattern of no great advantage for either side as they continued to cancel each other out in the run up to half-time.
Belles started the brighter of the two sides after the break, and Sophie Levick in the home defence had to be alert to stab the ball out of the path of Scargill looking to get on the end of a Izzy Gigg header into the box. Belles continued to push forward, with Izzy Trevillion instrumental in initiating the attacking play as well as breaking up Stourbridge possession down the left.
However, it was the hosts who were to take the lead in the fifty-third minute with their first attack of the half and somewhat against the run of play when Deasy found MIL ROGERS on the edge of the box, who, taking a second to compose herself, put a neat left-footed looping shot over Sharpe and just under the bar into the net.
The game re-started, but not before Housley was booked for losing her patience with Levick who had unsportingly refused to give Belles the ball back so they could kick off. Belles continued to press through the next period of play, with Preston having to be alert to come out and take the ball off the toes of Scargill after she had been played in by Barlow.
Moments later on sixty-six minutes, Belles had their best chance of the half so far when Khan intercepted play in midfield and played the ball out to Gigg on the far left. Gigg played it back to Housley who crossed into the box for Scargill to head the ball agonizingly wide of the far post.
Stourbridge then went on the attack, with Deasy heading just over from a corner, and on seventy-three minutes the hosts extended their led with Deasy again involved as she fed in ALEX NICKLIN to shoot in under pressure from six yards.
With Belles now chasing the game, manager Nick Buxton immediately made changes, with Gigg, Barlow, Housley and Cahill being replaced by Abi Coley, Sophie Brown, Ryley Johnson and Olivia Harness. Stourbridge were now happy to soak up any attacks and counter on the break as the game entered its end phase.
On eighty-three minutes Buxton made his final substitution, replacing Khan with Shelbey Morris, and moments later Brown had a great chance to pull a goal back when she combined with Morris to win the ball on the edge of the box. Brown fed in Johnson whose shot came through to Brown continuing her run into the box, but as she put the ball past the advancing Preston it was cleared off the line and out of play by Sophie Heaselgrave.
From the subsequent corner, a goal-bound looping header was collected by Preston, and as the game moved into added-time, the home ‘keeper had again to be alert to collect a Rattenbury shot into the box with Brown threatening. At the other end, Rattenbury tackled superbly in the box to break up an attack, and as the hosts looked to slow the pace of the game and run down the clock, that turned out to be the last attacking action of an even encounter in which there were precious few clear cut chances for either side - the difference being that Stourbridge were able to put two of theirs away.
Team: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andrew ©, Trevillion, Housley (Johnson 74), Cahill (Harness 74), Gigg (Coley 74), Tugby, Scargill, Khan (Morris 83), Barlow (Brown 74).
Subs unused: -
Belles Player Of The Match: Izzy Trevillion