Northampton Town Women play at a number of locations including Sixfields Stadium. However, today's game was scheduled to be played at their home, Harpole Playing Field, also home ground of Northampton Combination Premier side Harpole FC. Situated on the edge of Harpole village, just to the West of Northampton, Harpole Playing Field is a multi-sport venue with two full size football pitches, cricket and tennis courts. There is a small car park next to the club house and parking also available along Larkhall Lane. The clubhouse has a nice little bar area with quite an extensive menu available. The clubhouse block also houses the players & officials changing rooms and toilet facilities. The main pitch is the one furthest away from the club, surrounded by a metal bar fence. There are dugouts on the far side of the ground, both of which have the Harpole FC logo painted on the back wall. There's no spectator cover around the playing area (although there is a bench behind the far goal).
Historically the sides have come from very different backgrounds. Whilst Northampton were playing in the local Northamptonshire league less than a decade ago, climbing through the East Midlands League and then last season gaining promotion into the National league system, Doncaster were founder members of the Women's Super league in 2011.They won the original Women's Premier League twice (1991-92 & 94-94) as well as the Women's FA Cup six times, the last two of which completed league and cup doubles.
Both teams really needed a win to stand any chance of catching Stourbridge, although Northampton still have to travel to the War Memorial Ground in a few weeks.
Considering the recent weather, the pitch looked to have held up quite well. However, it was defintiely on the sticky and bumpy side. Combine that with a gusty wind and it was not a great surprise that the game got off to a scrappy start as both sides tried to get used to the conditions.
When they did start to settle it was the visitors who had the first real opportunity when Holly Housley trie dher luck from outside the box, lobbing Jo Daniel but seeing her effort drift wide. Nortmapton hit back with a effort of their own before Housley again hit one from outside the box. Once again, Daniel was not troubled.
As the game settled into somethign more of a pattern, it became clear that teo players in particular, Jade Bell for Northampton and Abi Coley for Belles, had mastered the pitch and could well prove to the difference.
Just before the 20 minute mark, bell made anothe rtrademark burst, latching onto a good through ball before rounding the advancing Ellie Sharpe. Unfortunately for Town she was forced very wide by some good defensive covering and couldn't hit the target. A few minutes later Northampton came closer still when a long ball when a long ball was flicke don by Mia Richards and then nodded past the last defender by Alex Dicks for Jade Bell to once again run onto. The nippy midfielder did everything right, slipping the ball low past Sharpe only to see it roll just wide of the far post.
Whilst Bell was coming close herslef, Abi Coley was everywhere across midfield and the front line for Belles. making herself available all the time and giving the home defence no rest at all. However, it was still Northampton who were generating the greater number of chances.
Both defences looked to be in good form b ut, on 25 minutes, Belles did make one mistake and Town top-scorer Alex Dicks was onto it in a flash, latching onto the loose ball, driving forard an hitting a shot just too high.
We had a short break in play just past the half-hour point when Housley was injured on the edge of the Town box. The referee intially wave dplay on even though it looked to be a foul from where I was standing. Thsi woudln't be the last time a decision irked the Belles bench.
Northampton almost got their noses in front just before the break when bell, once again, got in behind the Belels defence before pulling the ball across the afce of goal where Zoe Boote was arriving, unmarked. However, Ellie Sharpe did brilliantly to get across goal and keep the ball out with her legs. Great goalkeepeing.
HT Northampton Town Women 0 Doncaster Rovers Belles 0. Two very well-matched teams slugging it out. Both sides want the three points, with Jade Bell for Town and Abi Coley for Belles both looking particularly lively. The defences have come out on top so far, marshalled well by Vicky Barrett for Town and Jess Andrew for Doncaster.
With 69 minutes played it looked as if Doncaster may be made to pay for not going ahead when they were on top, when the referee awarded a penalty to Northampton for handball in the box. There was no argument from the visitors, it was just one of those incidents that the defender couldn't do a lot about but was a clear handball. Kim Farrow was on spot-kick duty for Town. She sent the keeper the wrong way but put her penalty wide of the post. It remained 0-0.
Doncaster brought Sophie Brown on up front at this point, adding a different dimension to their attack, with a more swashbuckling striker in the centre. The change was almost immediately apparent when Brown chased down a long ball. Jo Daniel came out, and got there first but her clearance went only as far as Izzy Gigg, who tried to return it with interest, only to see the ball go wide of the goal. A minute later Brown as was again in on the action as Belles pushed for a goal, narrowly heading wide from close range.
Although now looking the more likely to score, Belles could not relax, especially whilst Alex Dicks and Jade Bell were still on the pitch. It was Dicks who almost got on the scoresheet on 80 minutes, driving into the box but being denied what looked like a certain goal by a superb, last-ditch Freya Rattenbury tackle. Top defending.
A minute later came a moment of some controversy when Town were awarded a corner on their right side. The Doncaster bench were immediately on their feet, livid with the decision and convinced that the ball came off a Town attacker last. From diagonally opposite, where I was standing, it was impossible to see, but it became an even more controversial decision when, from the corner, Vicky Barrett rose high to head the ball home. 1-0.
There was a least one yellow card shown to the Belles bench after the goal and a small delay as the referee and assistant sorted out the commotion.
Fair play to the Doncaster team, however, they didn't let the goal or the apparent misjustice get to them. Five minutes after the goal, Jo Daniel had to race off her line to thwart Sophie Brown, who was clean through. The keeper went after the ball after her initial block and ended up giving away free kick out on the left side, picking up a yellow card in the process.
Abi Coley took the kick, hedging her bets by fizzing it in towards goal. It paid off when Daniel could only parry the ball and Jess Andrew reacted quickest to hook it over the line. 1-1
FT Northampton Town Women 1 Doncaster Rovers Belles 1. For a neutral, an entertaining game of football with a draw probably being the fairest outcome. Both goals scored by central defenders who had both looked so solid at the back too. Two brilliant midfield performances from Abi Coley and Jade Bell.
The big winners of the day were top of the league Stourbridge, who won 4-0 at Stoke. With second and third drawing, the Glassgirls edge ever closer to the title.
Both teams are back in action this weekend. Northampton travel to Lincoln City, who themselves are not safe from the drop. Town won 2-0 when the teams met earlier in the season. Both goals were scored by Jade Bell but Beth Artemiou also saw red for Northampton. Doncaster face a tricky trip to Noose Lane as they take on 4th placed Sporting Khalsa. The reverse fixture finished 2-1 to Belles with goals from Jess Andrew and Sophie Scargill. Angel Craig-Tapper had given Khalsa an early lead.
Northampton Town Women: Daniel, Barrett, Noble, Wait, Brewin, Bell, Farrow, Dicks, Richards, Mumford, Boote(c). Subs: Mayfield, Luttman, Omenazu, Reboul, Warren
Doncaster Rovers Belles: Sharpe, Rattenbury, Andre(c), Harness, Cahill, Housley, Dean, Gigg, Scargill, Coley, Barlow. Subs: Bedford, Brown, Morris
Ground Number: 357