Manchester Thunder surged to a convincing win over Team Bath at the Thunderdome, 51-32. It was a physical battle from the first to last whistle, with body contacts, flying elbows and crossed words between the sides.
Thunder, buoyed by that opening win of the season against Surrey Storm, and Bath, who secured a good win of their own against Team Northumbria, were expected to contest a much closer game.
The first quarter was a slow burner with early pressure from keeper Kerry Almond forcing a turnover that separated the sides in the opening exchanges. Then a feisty passage of play set the tone for the rest of the match, with possession changing hands in a frenetic five-minute period .
Bath’s England defender Stacey Francis had a a real job on her hands as she tried to contain an on-fire Chelsea Pitman who was burning her way through the court. The quarter finished 11-10.
But it transpired that Thunder had lulled their opposition into a false sense of security as they upped the tempo to power into a five-goal lead at the start of the second. Thunder’s slick attack was epitomised with Sara Bayman and Pitman trading long bullet feeds to the shooters throughout.
Bath failed to score in the opening eight minutes of the quarter and their frustration led to a collision between Francis and Mia Ritchie and Thunder were brutal in punishing their opposition’s errors.
Bath coach Jess Thirlby shuffled her pack in an attempt to stop the rot – and Thunder’s complete dominance – but they simply had no answer to the black and yellows’ fluid attack. Almond , Emma Dovey and Bayman combined with some easy on the eye defensive play and usually vocal Bath team had gone quiet.
They lost the second quarter 14-4 but a late surge from the Somerset-based side helped them end the quarter positively, following an energy-sapping defensive display from their opposition.
Birthday girl G-web came on for Dovey at half time.
Bath started the second half with more purpose, pouncing on a sloppy pass to Enziano and moving the ball through the court more confidently to get to within 10 of the defending champions.
Thirlby’s changes were starting to work and the game became more open midway through the third.
Jodie Gibson replaced an impressive Almond at the start of the third.
The athletic defender returned following a long period on the sidelines with an Achilles injury, that she sustained during England training post-season.
With Thunder 14 goals ahead, Coach Tracey Neville also brought on Ellie Cardwell at goal attack and Helen Housby shifted to goal shooter, with player of the match Enziano shifting to the bench.
Bayman traded places with England team-mate Laura Malcolm coming on at centre. The captain had played an instrumental part in her side’s now unassailable lead.
Thunder ‘s squad strength was evident with the fresh players continuing Thunder’s control and rhythm. The Gorton-based outfit sent out a clear message to the rest of the Superleague that they will not be surrendering their title without a fight.
After the match, Krista Enziano, who had impressive shooting accuracy of 96 per cent, said: “It was a really solid performance. Everything we had been working on in training showed on court. We had a slow first quarter but we blew them out out of the water in the second. I felt good, after the first few long shots went in I felt confident and I am so pleased I got player of the match.”