The Belles pushed higher league opposition all the way in a hard-fought FA Cup tie against Rugby Borough.
After falling behind to Angelina Nixon’s opener at the Iqbal Poultry Stadium, the Belles threatened throughout the second half and struck the post in stoppage time before Rugby made sure of the win with a Sarah Essam strike against the run of play in the game’s final act.
Led by newly appointed assistant manager Amanda Greenslade, and with new manager Ciaran Toner watching on, the Belles almost got off to a perfect start when Jasmine Saxton raced behind the Rugby back line to collect a Hannah McWilliams pass but pulled her shot wide of the far post.
The visitors, who operate in the FAWNL Premier Division South, struck a hammerblow to the Belles’ good start when Nixon pounced after Ellie Sharpe parried the ball.
The Belles were not disheartened however and they were immediately back on the front foot. Phoebe Sneddon and McWilliams combined to play in Natalie Banaszczyk but the winger fired wide.
Holly Housley drew a save from the Rugby keeper with a free kick from the edge of the box.
Rugby looked to have doubled their advantage just before the break but were denied by the offside flag.
The Belles pushed from the start of the second half but substitute Lilli Broadhurst had to be on hand to thump away a header off the line from a Rugby corner.
Rugby had the better of the chances for a period with Ebony Wiseman firing over from distance while Sharpe produced a great one-on-one save.
The Belles found a lifeline on 78 minutes when Rugby’s Demi Walker was sent off after dragging down Shelbey Morris as the last player. Jess Tugby-Andrew smashed the resultant free kick on goal and drew a fine save from the visiting keeper.
The Belles looked to make the numbers advantage count and piled on pressure. In stoppage time, a Belles free kick ricocheted around the box and fell to Sneddon, who lashed a shot off the post.
And as the Belles pushed players forward looking for the equaliser, Rugby pounced on the break with Essam firing home low.
Belles: Sharpe, Yates, Abadi, J. Tugby-Andrew, Housley, Gigg, L. Tugby-Andrew, McWilliams, Sneddon, Saxton, Banaszczyk. Subs: Mortimer, Broadhurst, Leverton, Morris, Hart.
The Belles are back in cup action on Sunday, November 19 as they visit Millmoor Juniors Development in the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA Cup in a 2pm kick-off.