Chelsea fell at the first competitive hurdle of the new season as they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Doncaster Rovers Belles at Tooting & Mitcham’s Imperial Fields.

As one of the eight members of the elite Women’s Super League which kicks off next month, the Blues began their campaign in the last 16 of the competition, but a superb free-kick by former England international Vicky Exley ended Chelsea’s interest before their season had scarcely begun.

The hosts were already rebuilding following some big name departures including England stars, Dunia Susi and goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain, but were further rocked prior to the match with skipper Casey Stoney’s shock announcement that she was joining league rivals Lincoln.

Manager Matt Beard fielded seven new signings in the clash, but despite having the majority of the possession, the Londoners were unable to find a way through a resolute Doncaster defence.

Beard said: “We didn’t take our chances and that’s cost us the game.

“It’s disappointing. Our ambition was to go one further than last year when we made the semi-finals and we haven’t taken the opportunity.”

As the new-look Chelsea tried to find their feet, the visitors were out of the blocks with Exley forcing keeper Sarah Quantrill to tip a goalbound header past the post after just seven minutes.

And the Belles’ striker should have again called Quantrill into action from the resulting corner, only to head wide.

Chelsea then spurned a glorious chance of their own to take the lead when Helen Lander blazed over the bar from Hayley Moorwood’s chip with visiting keeper Helen Alderson stranded.

The miss was to prove costly.

Sarah Owen was scythed down just outside the box on 22 minutes and Exley stepped up to sweep the free kick superbly into the top corner.

As the stung hosts looked for a quick reply, Ashlee Hincks opted to shoot with Lander better placed, before Gemma Bonner failed to capitalise after being gifted the ball from Alderson’s poor clearance.

In the last seconds of the half, Alderson was again almost caught out after she spilled a routine catch into Buet’s path, but the Chelsea midfielder was unable to get her shot away before being crowded out.

Chelsea started the second half in forthright mood as Buet fired over the bar from the edge of the box, but the hosts were fortunate not to go two behind when Kylla Sjoman smacked the post from another free kick with Quantrill helpless.

In an effort to find a cutting edge, Beard made three changes in quick succession and the move should have paid dividends when subs Becky Jane and Claire Rafferty combined with the latter heading over from the bar from ten yards.

Jane then tried a speculative effort of her own but Alderson was in the right spot to make a routine save.

As the Blues’ Yorkshire rivals opted to preserve their slender lead, they offered little attacking threat and were within a whisker of coming unstuck when Drew Spence volleyed against the bar with seven minutes remaining.

Alderson almost gifted the home side a leveller when her hacked clearance rebounded off Tori Williams, but Lara Fay summed up the hosts’ day in the final seconds when she sliced a cross with a wall of Chelsea shirts hoping in vain to rescue the match.

Despite the loss of both the tie and Stoney, Beard was upbeat about the coming season.

“We have to move on,” he said. “It creates opportunities for others and we’ve got a good young side.

“We’re still quite strong and I think we’ll win more than we lose. It’s going to be tough, but anyone can beat anyone on a given day.

“I think the gap between Arsenal and the rest is closer and we’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of the season."

Chelsea: Quantrill, Perry, Spence, Bonner, Hincks (Fay 66), Buet, Lander, Moorwood (Rafferty 57), Davies, Champ, Plewa (Jane 57).

Subs not used: Gibbs, Sherwood.