Doncaster Rovers Belles get their FA WSL Spring Series campaign underway against Dave Edmondson’s table-topping London Bees at the Keepmoat Stadium on Sunday (2pm).
The Bees have made a flying start to their Spring Series campaign, with captain Ashleigh Goddard at the heart of three impressive performances.
But in Emma Coates’ side they face a side hardened by a year in FA WSL 1 and out to lay down a marker in the Spring Series.
With two wins in three games, London Bees are the early pace-setters in the FA WSL 2 Spring Series, while Doncaster are yet to make their first appearance of the season.
A draw with newcomers Brighton & Hove Albion in their opening encounter has been followed swiftly by two wins – Emma Beckett’s long-range lob inspiring a fightback from 2-0 down to beat Watford 3-2, before Goddard’s third goal of the season helped the Bees to down Oxford 3-1 last time out.
Doncaster saw their own fixture with Brighton postponed due to international call-ups, while their first league fixture against Sheffield FC fell to inclement weather, but they did overcome their Yorkshire rivals in the Women’s FA Cup fourth round.
The two sides have not met since October 2015, when Courtney Sweetman-Kirk’s double ensured Doncaster would finish in the top two of FA WSL 2.
Though the Belles would go on to seal promotion, two draws in their previous two games in the build-up to the Bees clash meant the pressure was mounting on Doncaster to deliver.
Having won 5-1 at home, Sweetman-Kirk’s strike saw them to 1-1 by half-time at The Hive after Emma Whitter had struck early on for the hosts.
But Doncaster’s red-hot striker struck her 22nd goal of the season in the second period as the visitors wrapped up promotion with a second-place league finish.
ONE TO WATCH
Ashleigh Goddard (London Bees)
Goddard has been every bit the inspirational leader for London Bees this year, her three strikes in three games guiding her side to the summit of the Spring Series table.
Though it was Beckett’s lob that inspired the comeback from two down against Watford, it was Goddard who thundered home a 76th-minute winner, while it was the skipper again who rescued a point in their opener with Brighton.
The 24-year-old was Bees’ leading scorer in all competitions last year and is well on her way to repeating the trick this year with crucial goals at vital times.
If she can continue her red-hot form, then Bees will be increasingly tough to beat.
WHAT THEY SAID
Emily Simpkins (Doncaster Belles midfielder): “All the girls are really excited mainly because we haven’t had any games and we want to just get out there. We are eager to get going now and to have a consistent run of games.
“The small improvements we make will make a massive difference collectively. Each training session is meticulously planned so we work on what we need to put right. We are fully focused on London Bees.
“They have been playing really well and they will be a challenge for us. We are going to gain from a tough game and it will stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.”
Emma Beckett (London Bees midfielder): “Two wins in three games is a positive! Honestly, I don’t think we have been surprised by our form.
“We work hard on playing a certain way and learned a lot about ourselves as a squad last year. At training, we work on passages of play and using the ball well, and that’s hopefully something that is evident on games days – for both our first-team and development team.
“We’re lucky to have a good mix of experience and youth in the side – we’ve already had two 16-year-olds featuring consistently in the Spring Series – which contributes to a healthy team atmosphere.”
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