Thunder made hard work of their win over Hertfordshire Mavericks in round nine of the Superleague. They headed into the game on the back of a bruising win over Surrey Storm just two days earlier and despite not being at their best tonight, will be happy with taking six points home to Manchester.
It was a steady first half for Thunder but they came up against one of the league’s best defences in Layla Guscoth, Lindsay Keable and Naida Hutchinson.
It wasn’t a pretty start to the game, with the teams trading turnovers until, with over three minutes on the clock, Mavericks scored the first goal of the game.
Thunder were playing far too many looping feeds into the shooters but despite coming within a whisker of an intercept on numerous occasions, Guscoth and Sam May failed to capitalise.
Thunder scored three on the trot but May’s early hard work paid off and she produced a lovely flying intercept, crashing into the advertising hoardings in the process.
Mavericks had no fluidity in attack, with Kerry Almond sufficiently restricting the feeds from Camilla Buchanan at centre and England’s Sasha Corbin at wing attack.
Emma Dovey was not having her best game in a Thunder dress but she made up for it with a deft airborne touch to steal possession away from Louisa Watson with the game finely balanced.
Mavericks began to give away less penalties at the end of the quarter, something that had hindered their rhythm up to that point. The home side were still in touch with the score at 11-15.
Black and Yellows coach Tracey Neville brought on Jodie Gibson for Dovey to freshen up her defence at quarter-time.
Thunder were forced to be patient with their build up play as the impressive and compact Mavericks defence continued to ask questions of them at every opportunity.
A Mavericks injury time-out allowed the teams to regroup and Mavericks scored quickly on the restart.
Neville’s change was proving a good one as Gibson brought added stability to Thunder’s defence, combing well with England winger Laura Malcolm.
Sophie Hankin replaced an injured Sarah East at goal attack and Mavericks set to work at chipping away the six-goal Thunder lead.
But Hankin struggled to find her way into the game and a string of errors were punished by Thunder and the home side’s chance to close the gap was all-but gone.
The did pounce on a loose Turner pass and raced up the other end to score but then failed to capitalise on a missed shot by the Liverpudlian shooter, minutes later.
Neville showed faith in her squad and handed teenage defender Georgie Webster her chance at goal defence and Gibson switched to keeper.
It was a new-look attack, too, as Eleanor Cardwell entered the court at goal attack.
But it was a game to forget for Cardwell as she produced some inexplicable handling errors and wayward shooting under little pressure to gift Mavericks the impetus.
With the crowd behind them, Mavericks were now almost rampant.
Chelsea Pitman had gone missing in attack for Thunder for parts of the third but reminded us of her class with some signature feeds to unflappable Housby at the start of the fourth.
Neville had seen enough and hauled Cardwell off, while Webster, who had been relatively solid but had given away too many penalties at this level, was sacrificed for Dovey with Thunder in need of their most experienced defence.
Malcolm and Captain Bayman were smart in possession and both worked tirelessly to move the ball through the court as a result of their own interceptions, often at key moments in the game.
Malcolm’s composure, especially, rubbed off on her team-mates and Thunder clicked through the gears to stretch into an unassailable 11-goal lead with only five minutes left on the clock.
Thunder finished Mavericks off with some clinical passing but they will need to address their inability to stay focused for 60 minutes tonight if they are to defend their title.
Player of the match Helen Housby said: “I just think the changes that Mavericks brought out and the changes we made, it was almost like the game started again and it took us a while to get our rhythm back.”
“But credit to them as I think they came out with a lot of heart in that third quarter. Our play was disrupted, but I do think we kept it as even stevens as we could.”
“It’s always nice to get player of the match but personally I am not happy with my shooting however I think with that sort of defence you can expect to miss a few and Kathryn Turner and I stood up to it well.”
“Mavericks have such a diverse circle that they can play so it can be tough. They have quick feet and hopefully we can always stand up to that, coming into this if we could have said we were going to come away with six points we’d be happy. And we are.”