Trial by fire
The Belles were welcomed back to the top flight with three league gruelling matches, hosting Chelsea before travelling to face Birmingham then Man City in a half-season that was fractured with breaks, injuries and postponements. Their heaviest defeat to date came at the hands of the Citizens as the league leaders hit them for six back in early May.
It’s been all change for the Belles since, with the departure of previous manager Glen Harris and the appointment of new boss Emma Coates. Though Doncaster continue to hunt for their first point of the year, there has been clear improvement since the restart and the Belles did well to hold City off when the two met five days ago.
Despite a full-time score of 4-1, the Citizens were largely frustrated for most of the game, unable to find a final ball to break through the defence. However, with the visitors tiring, blue boss Nick Cushing introduced Georgia Stanway and Jane Ross into the game, and the substitutes proved to be the big difference.
After Stanway’s angled strike doubled the advantage, the Belles threw everything at the City backline and were richly rewarded when Marta Mathews scored from close-range at a corner. But there was to be no last minute shocks when two minutes later Toni Duggan scored from just inside the box before Stanway set up Ross to make it four.
For Coates and her Belles, the progress is steady, but Doncaster are fast running out of time to rack up the points.
City stumbling in front of goal
On the other side of the coin are Cushing’s Citizens; who are without loss in 11 games.
The game will be City’s fourth in twelve days though. Having scored nine and conceded two in the three games leading up to this one, it can be hard to argue that they lack a clinical finish but that’s the biggest issue when watching them play. Against teams that bank and defend, City struggle to find the killer ball and have been relying on fresh legs to secure the points; six of the nine goals having come in the second-half.
With Abbie McManus out for the season, Kosovare Asllani away at the Olympics, as well as Jill Scott and Megan Campbell nursing some light knocks, Cushing will have to be smart with how he sets his squad up. Handing a start to one or two of his younger players and utilising his bench smartly could be the way to go for City at the end of a busy two weeks.
With the Sky Blues eyeing the WSL 1 title, City can’t afford to write off or take any team lightly, an upset seems unlikely but the Belles won’t lie down for this one.