Almost twelve months since the announcement of Project Phoenix and things are looking bleak at the Keepmoat after an ill-fated return to WSL 1 followed up by an inconsistent Spring Series and a less than perfect transfer window.
Less than perfect return to the top flight
Having drawn the short straw in terms of fixtures, lack of matches and general hiccups along the way, the Belles struggled through the 2016 season before finding their first win on the last day of the season. The three points and first clean sheet of the year not enough to paper over the cracks of a miserable season.
After losing star striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk to an ACL injury early in the year the Belles saw Jess Sigsworth side-lined for the majority of the season as the squad dealt with niggles across the pitch, landmark signings Natasha Dowie and Beckie Easton early out of the door too. A change of management early in the season not enough to stop the rot, their season a bust, but four points shy of top in the Spring Series, maybe things could be coming up for the Belles again?
As with the Belles, there’s plenty of rain but little in the way of a following rainbow, the window quiet for the majority, some movement between the sticks early on as Jules Draycott joined from Sheffield and Nicola Hobbs left for the Bees.
Then nothing. Deadline day brought about the new of a short-term loan deal for Birmingham City’s Chloe Peplow but it was followed with the body-blow of news that Sweetman-Kirk had signed for Everton. Sophie Bradley-Auckland joined as a free agent and, after an eternity with the club, Kasia Lipka left for Sunderland. Donny’s better business all occurring before the Spring Series bringing in Maz Pacheco and Kirsty Hanson from Liverpool. However, things have been quiet in Doncaster, the side failing to secure the vacant spot in WSL 1 after Notts’ folded, signings short on the ground and little being said about Project Phoenix.
Youth the key
Arguably the squad Emma Coates has at her disposal is a strong one, the team a little light up top and could struggle for goals with Sweetman-Kirk gone, the baton falling to Hanson and Sigsworth to find the back of the net. A good mix of experience and youth should help to balance out the side, the players to watch the younger ones who are cutting their teeth with their respective national teams (and youth teams) – Rachel Newborough, Sam Tierney as well as the aforementioned, Pacheco and Hanson.
Two draws enough to keep them from tying on points with Spring Series champions, Everton, the day before Deadline Day you’d have said there was no excuse for the Belles not finishing top this season. However, with the loss of Sweetman-Kirk the team has lost guaranteed goals, and as the level in the second tier goes up they could find themselves dropping points all over the country, a strong start to the season paramount. One thing for sure, if the team do go up next season, they’ll have to be huge work done behind the scenes.