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Hitchin Belles turn things around
 Women's Football English County and other Leagues News - 17 May 2019
English County and other Leagues News - Hitchin Belles turn things around - 17 May 2019 - Women's Football News
After the disappointment of finishing second from bottom in Division Two in the Essex County Women's League last season, Hitchin Belles Ladies were reprieved from relegation due to a league restructure, so they remained as they were for 2018-19.
A core set of players re-signed and with a couple of new additions, the team was strengthened in key areas who set about improving on their previous league position. Charlotte Peters retained the captain's armband as her experience and leadership within the team was invaluable.
Terry White joined the coaching staff alongside manager Laurence Jack, with Jason Slade assisting. With a tough season ahead, Laurence made a change in the playing formation with focus on a more attacking strategy to meet the strengths of the playing squad and also to meet the aims for the season: more points than the season before, promotion, improve on previous County Cup and League Cup runs.
Pre-season friendlies against higher league opposition were arranged and played to cement knowledge the players had gained in training translated into match day. Some really good positive play in these matches gave confidence to the players that they could achieve the season long aims.
As for the season, with a depleted squad for the first match, Hitchin Belles secured their first point of the campaign away at Royston Town Development after being 2-0 down, a result which gave the Ladies a lot of confidence and belief. Where they were lucky to get a point against Royston in the first match, the second was the polar opposite as Belles squandered numerous chances against local rivals Hitchin Town Ladies and succumbed to their only defeat of the season when they lost 1-0.
Comprehensive wins against Watton, Welwyn Pegasus and Bedford Ladies Development in the league were interspersed with wins in the League and County Cup.
A real test came in November when a visit to FA Women's National League side Stevenage FC Ladies was reward for their previous endeavours in the County Cup. Although a lesson in how to play football, Belles gave it a real go against opposition who play five levels above them and were praised for their efforts and, unlike many teams, turning up. After the exertions of the County Cup, it was back to League action and by Christmas, Belles were under the radar being in fifth position, having played less matches.
The first game back after the festive break saw the Ladies travel to Watton and a poor first half performance gave rise to what manager Laurence Jack considered the turning point of the season. He did not have to say anything to motivate them for the second half as the ladies knew what was wrong and went out and scored four before a late reply right at the death. A draw against Evergreen Ladies at the end of January were the only points dropped since September and which, coupled with the winning streak, saw Belles start to challenge the leaders for the Division Two title.
Each week, focus was on about playing the Belles' brand of football, the team spirit and togetherness and it was this that when games were tough especially versus Letchworth, they pulled through. Belles Ladies climbed the table and after defeating Letchworth, took over at the top, a position they kept until the end. The League Cup run came to a shuddering halt in the semi finals as the Ladies visited Division One side and Champions elect, Hemel Hempstead Town Ladies. Although the ladies gave their all it was not to be and they bowed out of the competition.
The season highlight was the last match, when Hitchin Belles travelled to face local rivals Hitchin Town who, at the time, could still catch them for the title. The match was hosted at Hitchin Town FC, with the match broadcast on local radio. A crowd of 150+, some made up from Hitchin Belles Youth players, created a fantastic atmosphere. Both teams enjoyed the occasion and although a 0-0 draw ensued, were treated to two sides trying to play football. A brilliant advert for women's football in the local area.
A fantastic season overall with the playing philosophy based on an attacking formation, cemented by a solid defensive back line led superbly by Bonni Woodward. It is a remarkable turnaround for a team that struggled the previous year, to work so hard and to prove so many doubters wrong, to go on and win the title.
The statistics will show that Belles Ladies had four players (Katie White (21), Amy Jack (18), Charlotte Peters (15) and Keira How (14)) in the top five goalscoring positions, scoring a mammoth 68 goals between them. At the League awards, Katie White, who scored five hat-tricks during the campaign, picked up the Division Two top goalscorer, Orlagh Daly picked up best goalkeeper and Amy Jack picked up the player with the highest statistics.
It is now a rest for the players for a couple of weeks before preparations ramp up for next season when the jump in quality of opposition will be a real test.

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