BURTON Albion's women's first team suffered a narrow opening day defeat at home to Doncaster Rovers Belles - but can take plenty of positives from their performance at Hillsfield.
The FAWNL Division One Midlands season began in earnest on Sunday as the Brewers hosted the Belles, former national champions, at Hillsfield, home of Rocester FC.
But despite rattling the crossbar late on, a resilient Brewers could not find an all-important equaliser to cancel out Hannah McWilliams' back-post header from a corner early in the second half.
Albion had in fact started brightly, winning a string of corners but unable to seriously test Ellie Sharpe in the Rovers goal - and the visitors soon gathered a foothold in the game from there.
Jasmine Saxton turned a close-range effort from a right-wing cross over the bar before Brewers keeper Charlotte Heggs did well to hold on to an effort from distance from Jeff Andrews.
Brewers captain Amber-Leigh Denny sent a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide of the far post before Millie Drinkhall made a fine surging run through the middle four minutes shy of half-time, only for a last-ditch challenge to take the sting out of her shot, which ran through to Sharpe for a comfortable save. Moments later Heggs was called into action again, this time making a good stop to deny Sophie Scargill.
While the Belles had the bulk of possession, they were frustrated by a resolute Brewers defensive display. Albion were well-organised and strong in the challenge, with many Belles attacks breaking down before reaching the final third, and they carried a threat on the counter with the pace of Hanaiya Azhar causing issues both in and out of possession.
Not long after the break, Doncaster took the lead as McWilliams nodded in an Andrews corner, and Belles would hit the crossbar moments later as Nadia Khan's lobbed effort bounced off the woodwork.
But Albion were determined in their push for an equaliser. Emmalee Hornsby rounded Sharpe but could not find the finish - while a corner into the Belles' box was headed against the crossbar late on.
That was how it finished and Brewers captain Denny felt that, despite the result, there were positives for Albion to take from the defeat.
"You're never completely happy after a defeat, obviously," said Denny. "But there are positives that we can take.
"Not many people would have expected us to get much from Doncaster and yet near the end we've hit the bar, and on another day if that goes in we've taken a point out of the game.
"We know the quality Doncaster possess going forward but I thought defensively we held firm for long periods, kept in our shape and frustrated them, and that definitely bodes well for us going forwards.
"We looked dangerous on the counter and carved open a few opportunities for Hanaiya and Emm, too.
"You can see we've come far as a team and for me there's still a lot more to come.
"We'll have another good week of training now before we have another tough game away at Boldmere next weekend.
"We can definitely take a lot of confidence from aspects of our game here."