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Doncaster Rovers Belles announced on Tuesday this week that head coach Zoey Shaw had left by mutual consent.
Shaw assumed the managerial reins at the start of last season when Belles, the 2018 WSL 2 champions, but unable to meet the FA licensing criteria to compete in the top two tiers, had to drop into the FAWNL Northern Premier Division.
Shaw had been in charge of Belles' team in the FAWSL Development League prior to last season and several of her charges formed part of a squad with minimal first team experience representing Belles in the third tier last season. Indeed, but for several RTC players stepping up and being plunged straight into adult football (without the benefit of Reserve/Youth football), Belles would not have had a team competing in the FAWNL last term.
A nightmare first half of the season, which included several heavy defeats as an inexperienced team fought valiantly but unsuccessfully, left Belles staring at almost certain relegation. However, a much healthier second half saw them narrowly fail to avoid the drop.
Life this season has again been tough. The geography of the four divisions in the fourth tier saw the Belles placed in Midlands Division One and this was a significant factor in several key players, who live north of Doncaster, leaving (due to much increased travel for away games).
Consequently, the close season saw another influx of several inexperienced players which necessitated more rebuilding, while the current campaign had barely begun before several more of last season's squad decided to seek their football elsewhere amid talk of differences of opinion with Shaw.
Five straight League defeats saw the Belles go into December looking very anxiously over their shoulders as just one Sunday with the wrong results would have seen them slip into the higher of the two relegation places.
A last minute equaliser denied Belles victory on their visit to The New Saints where the game ended 3-3 to give Belles a much welcome point, while 2019 ended with a narrow 1-0 home win over AFC Doncaster in the County Cup, the visitors spared a heavier defeat by the woodwork on several occasions.
Belles are currently third bottom, five points adrift of two teams on 12 points, but four points clear of Solihull Moors (the pair meet on February 2nd) and seven clear of bottom club Burton Albion who have lost all their games to date and still to play Belles this season. Those three games will be crucial in Belles' fate this season.
While historical results will show that Belles' record under Shaw was far removed from the club's glory days, what they will not show is how difficult a task she had and in terms of player development, her record is much to be admired. Two notable examples follow: Goalkeeper Emily Batty is currently at Sheffield United where is understudy to Northern Ireland international Becky Flaherty. Defender Liv Cook, another of last season's plusses, is excelling at Nottingham Forest who are second in the Northern Premier Division side, their squad including several other players who have played for Belles.
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