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Doncaster Rovers Belles won a tense F.A.Women's Cup tie against Birmingham City at Stratford with a Vicky Exley penalty in the 35th minute to earn a Sixth Round tie away to Arsenal next Sunday.
Birmingham lost their captain Kerys Harrop, sent off for the challenge which provoked the spot kick, but remained in contention to the last kick as Belles were unable to convert a number of chances during the second half. The Blues closest effort was an Isabel Christiansen shot from fully 35 yards which hit the bar with Marie Hourihan beaten, but the Belles keeper had to make two other fine saves to ensure the visitors progressed.
Hourihan had been called into action in the first minute with a fine double block from Amy McCann as the Blues tore into action. However, Doncaster soon settled and Precious Hamilton swung over a cross from which Rachel Williams' header forced an excellent save from Sue Wood. Chelsea Weston's corner brought a repeat from the same two players.
Belles looked dangerous every time the ball was crossed, with Millie Bright or Williams often threatening the Blues central defence of Harrop and Jemma Rose. Williams sent a 20-yard shot just wide on twenty minutes and it was the all-action midfielder who provoked the award of a spot kick on 34 minutes.
Chasing a lofted through ball against two defenders, her strength took her past both, only to be challenged in a manner which was deemed a foul by Kerys Harrop, who was seen as the last defender and sent off. Vicky Exley gave the Belles the lead from the resulting penalty and the Blues reorganised with Jemma Connor-Iommi droppng into the back four.
The home team found a new determination and created three good chances before the break, a McCann header was well saved, a Connor-Iommi lob just over and a superb first time lobbed drive from Christiansen, similar in style to her last second wonder goal in the Under-17 World Cup, but this time hitting the bar in first half injury time.
Doncaster needed to shift the ball around more effectively to take advantage of the extra player and this they did to great effect through much of the second half with skipper Exley increasingly dominating midfield and ex-Blues duo Hamilton and Becky Hall on the wings.
A series of well constructed Belles moves saw Exley hit the post and go just wide, Hamilton shoot wide twice and Williams have an effort go narrowly over.
Blues were having to push forward, sending on Kerry Bartlett and Chrissy Torkildson to add forward threats. The latter drew another good save from Hourihan and when Dannii Bird rounded the keeper, covering defender Claire Utley was able to clear.
Belles always looked capable of adding to their lead, but their finishing was inaccurate, which allowed Blues hope right to the end of the four minutes stoppage time. Christiansen received a booking for dissent and a stern lecture from referee Helen Fulcher to add to two other yellow cards in a match fiercely contested throughout.
Birmingham will hope to change their luck in the remaining league matches and regain the County Cup which they failed to win for the first time in many seasons last year. Doncaster meanwhile will need to take more of the chances which their quality approach play creates if they are to defeat Arsenal and reach the semi final next Sunday.
Birmingham City: Sue Wood, Sian Larkin, Michelle Hickmott, Jemma Connor-Iommi, Jemma Rose, Kerys Harrop, Mikaela Howell, Isabel Christiansen, Amy McCann, Jo Potter, Dannii Bird. Subs: Naomi Bruton, Callan Barber, Danni Saulter, Chrissy Torkildson, Kerry Bartlett.
Doncaster Rovers Belles: Marie Hourihan, Chelsea Weston, Tori Wlliams, Claire Utley, Naomi Chadwick, Rachel Willams, Vicky Exley, Amy Vaughan, Becky Hall, Precious Hamilton, Millie Bright. Subs: Kasia Lipka, Sarah Owen, Emily Simpkins.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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