Fulham too professional for battling Belles

Fulham Ladies 2 Doncaster Belles 1
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The Independent Football

The result was predictable but not the scoreline as Doncaster Belles, six times winners of the Women's FA Cup but strictly amateurs, ran Europe's only professional women's team close in an intriguing final yesterday.

The result was predictable but not the scoreline as Doncaster Belles, six times winners of the Women's FA Cup but strictly amateurs, ran Europe's only professional women's team close in an intriguing final yesterday.

Fulham, in their second season as professionals, have won all 34 of their League and Cup games, scored 267 goals, collected the Southern Division title and with it, promotion to the National Division of the Women's Premier League, in a canter. En route to winning the Premier League Cup and now their first FA Cup, they have beaten what were formerly acknowledged as the two best teams in the country – League champions Arsenal and Doncaster, who were National Division runners-up to the Gunners as well as coming off second best in the Cup final. The Cottagers will undoubtedly be favourites to win the top division next season, though if opponents show as much determination as the Belles did at Selhurst Park it will not be the cakewalk that they trod to the Southern Division championship.

The Doncaster manager, Julie Chipchase, said: "It will take a very good team to beat Fulham, but we'll give it our best as we did today. We had a game plan and for a big part of the match it worked well. We did really well in the first half and even though it was difficult to come back after they'd got their two goals we pulled ourselves together and got back into the game. The girls are massively disappointed, but credit to them – they gave everything they had but on the day it just wasn't good enough."

Fulham won the game with two goals in five second-half minutes. Their winger Rachel Yankey curled home a superbly struck 20-yard free-kick then, on the hour, her England colleague Katie Chapman volleyed in what proved the winner from a similar distance.

Doncaster hit back within 60 seconds, striker Jody Handley heading home a Karen Burke free-kick, but the Yorkshire side never seriously threatened an equaliser despite having plenty of possession in the closing stages.

The professionals might have got a late goal or two but were held at bay by a resolute defence in which Mandy Lowe was outstanding. So effective was her marking of striker Marianne Pettersen that the Norwegian international rarely looked likely to add to her season's tally of 86 goals.

The Fulham manager, Gaute Haugenes, said: "Donny gave us a tough game but it was what we expected. People made us favourites because we are the professionals but we knew it would not be easy.

"It will be the same in the Premier League next year. We don't have the experience of playing teams like this on a weekly basis and it may take a year for us to adapt – but I think we will be good enough to compete for the League title in our first season."

Doncaster Belles (4-4-2): Hall, Utley, Lowe, Barr, C. Hunt; Burke, Easton, Exley, G. Hunt; Walker, Handley. Substitutes not used: Gomersall, Abrahams, Garside, Howarth, Borman.

Fulham (4-3-3): Johannessen; Jerray-Silver, Terp, Phillip, Unitt; McArthur, Chapman, Haugenes (Mork 90); Moore (Duncan 61), Pettersen, Yankey. Substitutes not used: Smith, Gibbons, Rahman.

Referee: E Evans.

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