Gordon Staniforth was delighted with the character the Belles showed to comeback against a previously unbeaten Sunderland and throw the title race wide open, writes Chris Donald.
Sunderland, who could have wrapped up the FAWSL2 title for themselves against chasers Doncaster on Saturday evening, took the lead through top scorer Beth Mead.
However, a superb second half performance from the visitors saw Jess Sigsworth scramble home a leveller before Victoria Williams’ brilliant curling effort found the top corner to give the Belles the vital points.
That victory sees Doncaster five points behind table-toppers Sunderland with three matches to go and a game in hand over the leaders.
“I am very happy. The second half we were tremendous. Lots and lots of character in that performance and a thoroughly deserved win,” said Belles boss Staniforth.
“We were poor in the first half, we didn’t get our game going and pass the ball like we can do. We were second best for most of the half and there were a few harsh words said at half time.
“A big improvement in the second half. Why it took us so long I don’t know, but it was a massive improvement and two fantastic goals.”
He went on: “We can’t do any more than pick up maximum points and there are nine points waiting for us.”
In front of a 1,100-strong crowd at the Hetton Centre, the home side began strongly, forcing a string of corners to put the Belles under pressure early on.
And that pressure paid off when Mead flicked a header into the top corner away from the reach of Nicola Hobbs in the Belles goal after 16 minutes.
The visitors grew into the game after the goal with Millie Bright and Williams causing problems in what was a full-blooded affair that saw a number of yellow cards brandished by the referee.
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk went close shortly after the break, forcing a stop from Rachel Laws, before Bright struck the bar with a stunning free-kick.
On the hour, Williams’ deep cross from the left fell to Doncaster striker Sigsworth who headed home from close range to level.
Sue Smith was then booked for what the referee deemed a dive in the box before Sunderland were handed a golden opportunity to snatch the game and the title.
It came when Mead played a superb ball through to Abbey Joice but she slotted it wide of Hobbs’ post from six yards.
And that let-off for the Belles spurred them on towards a dramatic league upset.
Smith’s ball down the channel seemed a lost cause but substitute Ashleigh Mills kept it alive on the byline and cut the ball back to Williams who produced a stunning first time effort into the top corner.
Hobbs held onto a few late crosses to calm any nerves as the Belles secured victory - taking the title fight right to the wire.
Sunderland: Laws; Holmes, Greenwell, Furness, Bannon, Sharp, S. Williams, Ramshaw (Bass 71), McDougall, Mead, Joice. Subs: Alderson, Wilson, Beer, Gutteridge, Briggs, Kelly.
Doncaster Rovers Belles: Hobbs; Cunningham, Little, Roberts, Williams; Lipka, Bright, England (Thomas 76); Sigsworth (Mills 80), Smith, Sweetman-Kirk. Subs: Stamp, Cresswell.