Hopeful but muted
Still trying to avoid the distinction of being the only WSL 1 team to make it through a single season without a single point Doncaster started hopefully, Mary Earps coming out to punch a deep free kick away but getting nowhere near. Her blushes spared by her alert defence who were quick to get the ball away to safety.
The game, between WSL 1’s newcomers was spacious and open, centre backs alert when they needed to be, everyone else given freedom to roam, the hosts looking slightly more dangerous with Mel Fletcher and Emma Follis on the charge as the Belles looked for hopeful long balls to run onto. Harriett Scott’s speculative effort wide of the mark before Follis forced Anna Moorhouse into a smart save at full stretch.
Once again the Belles were presented with a half chance as Earps failed to connect with a set piece clearance, the visitors again unable to capitalise as the home defence ushered the ball away. Earps’ handling not letting her down as she punched Kasia Lipka’s driven cross away from a lurking Katrin Omarsdottir, sending the hosts away on a counter. The Belles looking their most settled at the back as they cleared the danger and the resulting corner, having stayed firm in defence with half an hour played.
The Royals’ strong penalty shout fell on deaf ears before Christie Murray’s snapshot from just 20 yards skimmed just over the bar moments before the hosts had a goal chalked off for offside. The game remained open with both sides vying for the first goal but unable to carve through each others back-lines, Emily Simpkins’ stoppage time drive a spectacular effort that demanded a special leaping save from Earps. 0-0 at half-time one of the Belles more positive results of the season, Reading well versed in draws.
More of the same
The hosts starting the second-half with just a little more urgency than their opposition, Fletcher’s header arcing wide after the Belles had managed to just about repel every Royals effort, Moorhouse with an easy save at her near post to gather Lauren Bruton’s shot.
Another corner for Reading was meet with more groans, playing short to Follis doing nothing to trouble the wall of yellow in the box. The second-half much like the first with no end product although the majority of the play had relocated from midfield to the Belles’ half.
Murray’s turn and shoot slipped just wide of the post after a brilliant solo run from Lipka through the heart of midfield. The Belles’ first chance of the second-half coming after the hour. Reading attacked once more but were again left wanting, unable to find a route through the custard defence.
Earps called into action to make a spectacular save again as Lipka’s venomous strike arrowed towards goal, Murray’s deflected effort landing on the roof of the net as the hosts failed to fully clear the resulting corner. The Belles having suddenly sparked into life, Earps forced to make another save from close range, the team from Doncaster not going down without a fight.
The added pressure paying off as Omarsdottir knocked Rhiannon Robert’s lofted ball past a shocked Earps, the keeper redeeming herself two minutes later again in spectacular fashion to deny Omarsdottir a quick-fire brace; the former Bristol keeper the far busier in the second-half.
Reading responded well, keen to pepper Moorhouse’s goal but the already downed Belles weren’t willing to relinquish another goal this year, doing well to withstand the barrage, riding another penalty call as Bruton went down on her way into the box. The seconds of normal time ran out as the Belles just had to see final stoppage time minutes of the 2016 season. Digging deep the relegated team hung on to go down with pride, not the team to make it all the way through a campaign without a point.