Doncaster Rovers Belles boss Gordon Staniforth watched on as the Development squad played out a 0-0 draw with Liverpool Reserves yesterday, writes Mark Donnelly.
The squad, fresh from their 4-3 victory over Durham last weekend, travelled to Merseyside to take on the Reds.
With a potential FA Women’s Cup first team place up for grabs against Aston Villa on Sunday, it was all to play for as the Belles could have - and arguably should have - clinched victory over Liverpool.
The first chance fell to the visitors just shy of the ten minute mark when a probing run from Laura Bartup saw Emma Johnson drill a 25-yard effort goalwards, which was comfortably held by goalkeeper Gemma Jackson.
The Belles continued to apply pressure and had a golden opportunity to take the lead after 12 minutes when a searching ball from Bartup found Lucy Sowerby free down the left wing and her pull-back into Jemma Purfield’s path saw her strike repelled by the legs of Jackson.
It took almost half an hour for Liverpool to create their first opening of the afternoon when a clever ball saw Rebecca Hillman through on goal. Nicola Hobbs, however, was equal to her effort and tipped wide.
Liverpool were beginning to gain momentum and thought they had the lead after a curling free-kick from Hodson smashed off the bar leaving Hobbs with no chance. But the Reds failed to convert the rebound, with Riccio the guilty party.
Just before half-time, the Belles were caught napping as Hillman burst down the right but Donoghue could only divert her cross into the arms of Hobbs.
After dominating early on, the Belles’ main threat was now from long range. A powerful drive from Johnson had Jackson scrambling across her line before she eventually got her fingertips to it and pushed behind.
Within seconds of the restart Liverpool should have taken the lead. Claudia Walker broke through the defence but her shot was poor and went well over the bar.
The hosts continued to apply pressure and, after the Belles failed to clear a free-kick, the ball fell at the feet of Hodson whose effort was easily claimed by Hobbs.
An even better chance presented itself after 20 minutes of the second period as Hodson again found the ball at her feet in the penalty area. Again though, her effort was poor and she poked wide from six yards out.
After the string of let-offs, the Belles then started to create some chances of their own.
A good run from Sowerby and a strong drive was well held by Jackson.
Victoria Williams was next to threaten as she strode out of defence before unleashing a rising shot from 30 yards - Jackson again managing to hold under her crossbar.
The Belles then handed a debut to Amy Blinkhorn in an attempt to find the elusive breakthrough.
She played a part in the move which led to Bartup being tripped on the edge of the area. The resulting free-kick was struck well by Lauren Cresswell and Jackson could only parry before smothering at the second attempt.
With only a few minutes left, Johnson broke through the Liverpool backline and found herself clean through, however, she could only look on in despair as her effort flew past the near post.
Coach Duncan Milligan said: “I said to the girls before this game that they’re all in his [Staniforth’s] thoughts. A good performance could get you into the Villa squad and that’s where these players want to be.
“They’re not at the club to be a development player, they’re here to push on into the first team and be a squad player and that’s where they all want to be.”
He went on: “We’d have lost that game before Christmas. We showed a lot of character and in the last ten or 15 minutes we were probably the better team.”
Defender Rhiannon Roberts added: “I thought we kept the ball well. Their ‘keeper was probably the busier out of them both and we created lots of chances so it’s very positive.”
Belles: Hobbs, Ward (Blinkhorn 75), Cresswell (c), E.Johnson, Roberts, Williams, M.Johnson, Bartup, Purfield, Emery, Sowerby. Subs: Blinkhorn.
*Photo: by Kevin Neagle. Interview courtesy of Belles TV.