The battling Belles fell to defeat at Durham Cestria at Sunderland Ford Hub.
Under the guidance of Amanda Greenslade, the visitors competed well in the first half and soaked up attacking pressure but were breached before the break by Ella Rowell.
The Belles were much-improved in possession in the second half but as they looked for the equaliser, Cestria capitalised with Rowell netting a second.
The game marked the debut off the bench of American winger Jess Hart, who received international clearance prior to the trip.
Cestria started the stronger and piled on pressure in the early stages.
But it was the Belles who had the game’s first clear cut opportunity. Jas Saxton broke through one-on-one but rushed her effort and fired straight at keeper Anna King.
Moments later, Cestria had the lead when Rowell steered a corner kick beyond Ellie Sharpe on 25 minutes.
Sharpe produced a brilliant diving save to push away a shot from outside the box that looked destined for the top corner.
The Belles emerged for the second half with real intent and applied pressure on the hosts.
Lauren Breen saw a powerful drive from outside the box turned away by King before latching onto a pass from Lindsey Tugby-Andrew and drilling agonisingly wide with 15 minutes to play.
But with four minutes remaining, the game was put to bed by the hosts, who caught the Belles up-field with Rowell producing a simple finish.
Lindsey Tugby-Andrew denied Cestria a third goal with a last-ditch interception in the dying moments.
Belles: Sharpe, Johnson, Yates, Gigg, Abadi, J. Tugby-Andrew, Morris, Sneddon, Saxton, L. Tugby-Andrew, Breen. Subs: Mortimer, McWilliams, Hart, Broadhurst.
The Belles are back on home soil on Sunday, November 12 as they host Rugby Borough in the Women’s FA Cup first round at the Iqbal Poultry Stadium. Tickets are available to purchase HERE.