Doncaster Rovers Belles face a long road back to the top of the women's game
Almost every game Doncaster Rovers Belles play this season feels like a cup final for the opposition.
Sunday was no exception.
It was an FA Cup second qualifying round tie but for minnows Chester-le-Street Town it was also an opportunity to topple a famous name; a name that still carries much prestige and honour despite a dramatic, depressing fall from grace.
The north east side duly obliged by coming from 2-1 down to win the match 4-2.
No longer are the Belles feared, even at this level. That’s history. They are out of the cup and, following relegation to the fourth tier of the women’s game, have lost five out of seven in the league this term.
Zoey Shaw’s side currently sit ninth in the 12-team FAWNL Division One North Midlands and their last league match ended in a resounding 7-2 loss to leaders Wolves.
It is becoming abundantly clear that Club Doncaster, who completed a protracted takeover in the summer, have really got their work cut out if the intention is to get the Belles back among the elite any time soon.
That opposing teams are raising their game against them is not the Belles’ only problem.
Losing has become a habit, confidence is clearly fragile and a very young squad appears to lack leaders.
Captain Lauren Breen and top scorer Jasmine Saxton were among five players to quietly leave the Belles last month. Their departures were not explained but issues with team selection were understood to be the cause.
This season was meant to bring fresh optimism and potentially a push for promotion. Consolidation and stability are the priorities now.
Belles were on the brink of going under last year when their major sponsor pulled out, the senior squad departed en masse and they were forced to withdraw from the newly-named FA Women’s Championship despite having just won the title.
Their survival is a cause for celebration, of course, but their rapid slide down the ladder has become no less painful to watch.
They welcome Lincoln City Women to Rossington Main on Wednesday night for what was a top flight fixture not that long ago.
Sadly those days now feel like a distant memory. The road back to the top looks like a very long one indeed.