Rovers Ladies slipped to a narrow 2-1 defeat away to table-toppers Newcastle in their first away match of the new season.
Goals in quick succession from Newcastle’s Bethanie Gardener and Rovers’ Jess Holbrook saw the two teams go in level at the break, however Claire Pitt’s stunning strike sealed the win for the hosts 17 minutes from time.
It would prove to be an eventful afternoon for Newcastle keeper Laura Wareham, who made a string of fine saves, took a high boot to the head by Sophie Jones, who was shown a straight red card, and was then sent off herself for handball in the closing stages.
Rovers started strongly, with Wareham making a smart stop to deny Vicky Westerman on seven minutes, before Danielle Sheen’s composed finish was ruled out for offside.
Kaz Boyle then played a ball over the top to Jones, who drove forward and forced another smart save from Wareham, who then denied the Rovers striker with an even better save from point-blank range.
Newcastle then opened the scoring against the run of play eight minutes before the break. A diagonal ball forward was played into the path of Gardener, who cut in from the left before curling a superb shot into the far corner.
Rovers’ response was immediate. A well-worked corner saw Jones pull the ball back to Holbrook, who smashed a shot home from inside the box.
Gemma Donnelly’s side maintained their momentum at the start of the second half, with Sheen striking the woodwork less than a minute after the restart.
Newcastle battled back, firing a free-kick inches over the bar on 55 minutes, before going close again from eight yards out.
After Jones miscontrolled Holbrook’s delightful pass when through one-on-one, the hosts scored the all-important third goal. A cross from the right found Pitt unmarked on the edge of the area and the left-back fired an unstoppable shot past Jo Hutcheson.
Rovers pushed for an equaliser, with Boyle and Jones both shooting straight at Wareham, before Jones saw red for a head-high challenge on the keeper.
Substitute Saffron Jordan was then denied a clear goalscoring opportunity in the dying stages when Wareham deliberately handled the ball outside the box and Holbrook’s free-kick deflected through to stand-in stopper Michaela Raine.
Donnelly said: “We could easily have been four or five goals up by half-time and put the game to bed, but their goalkeeper has had a worldie and it just wasn’t our day.
“Our inexperience and naivety told towards the end when Newcastle stepped it up and our youngsters struggled to cope with their pace and physicality.
“Ultimately we’re really disappointed to lose the game, because we didn’t give the best account of our own ability. If we’d scored the chances we created it would have been a totally different story.”
ROVERS: Hutcheson, Taylor, Westerman, Chandarana, Kinvig, Bickett, Holbrook, Sheen (Jordan 80), Jones, Fenton, Boyle (Johnson 72).
Subs not used: Maher, Hope.