Source: Mark Pritchard

Lacklustre Thunder win against battling Lightning 51-40

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Manchester Thunder limped to an unconvincing victory over Loughborough Lightning.  The defending champions controlled the game for large patches, but Lightning offered significant resistance to Thunder’s noticeable off-colour attack.

It is an attack that has been out of form in the past few Superleague rounds and Thunder will need to recapture their fire-power to beat one of the best defences in the league in Hertfordshire Mavericks, in the Superleague semi final at Manchester Arena next Saturday.

Mavericks were beaten by Yorkshire Jets 50-54 earlier in the day, leaving them fourth in the table and facing a Thunder side that has beaten them twice already this season.

Third-placed Jets will travel to Surrey Storm in a bid to make the Superleague grand final for the first time.

Thunder player of the match Sara Bayman, said: “It felt good to get run out today and get four quarters at centre, get the lungs going.

“Overall the team performance wasn’t where we wanted it to be but sometimes you’ve just got to get through games and get the win and that’s what we did.

“It’s not tiredness and maybe people had one eye on the semi final but we can’t afford to do that. We had a job to get done today and we did make it hard work for ourselves, especially in attack.

“That is something we need to look at this week and fix quickly for the semi final.”

Thunder, who finished the regular season unbeaten, started at lightning speed, surging into an eight-goal lead midway through the first quarter.

Captain Bayman was in a typical no-nonsense mood, whipping in a series of bullet feeds to her shooters.

One being so fast it almost caught a waiting Helen Housby in the face, before she recovered and scored under the post.

It was a lacklustre first quarter from Lightning. A classic performance from a team winding-down at the end of the season with nothing to play for.

The home side were forced to wait for a Thunder mistake, and it came with an inexplicable Kathryn Turner miss.

Lightning scored two on the bounce and their tails were up as they set about cutting Thunder’s growing lead.

It was a scrappy five-minute period as Thunder’s rhythm, especially in the centre court, started to slip and they were rattled.

But the Black and Yellows rediscovered some zip with some patient attacking play.

Krista Enziano entered the fray in place of a struggling Kathryn Turner mid way through the second quarter.

Coach Tracey Neville’s change did the trick as Thunder began to dominate the game, spearheaded by Bayman, who was dictating play all over court.

The game strolled towards half time, with Thunder marginally in control at 18-28.

A communication mix up between Beth Cobden and Bayman and gifted Lightning possession after Thunder had started the second half as they ended the first.

An Enziano fumble handed Lightning a lifeline and their shooting import Peace Proscovia punished the visitors with some ruthless shot-making.

With only 10 goals in it, Lightning still had hope and were a different team to the one we saw in the opening phases of the game.

Thunder were complacently coasting along in third gear, but with the sense that they could crank it up to fifth at any moment, Lightning had the look of a team who knew they were on borrowed time.

However, that push from Thunder never came and Lightning stayed with the defending champions, proving again how they are a different team in 2015, after going through last season winless.

Thunder’s former centre-courter Rachel Henry was her usual dogged self, joining her team-mate Lauren Steadmen in what had become a physical battle in the centre court.

Aussie Chelsea Pitman replaced Cobden at third-quarter time in a bid to add extra pace to Thunder’s attack.

But Lightning’s defence stayed tight and Thunder were becoming with sloppy in possession and out of ideas around the shooting circle.

At the other end of court, Kerry Almond continued her sterling form, regularly forcing intercepts, allowing Thunder to stay ahead.

Housby continued to steady the ship but in general, Thunder’s shooters will need to put in a much sharper display against Mavericks to make it to the final at London’s Copperbox on April 26.

The final total was the least Thunder has scored all season.

Young England shooter Housby was given a well-earned rest and Enziano re-entered the game, with Cardwell switching to goal attack

The second half was an even contest, with Thunder happy to rest on their 10-goal lead, unusually uninterested in extending it.

If Lightning had been more aggressive in the first half, the match could well have had a different outcome.

Bayman showcased some ridiculous skill, by rolling the ball over her body to glance a pass to Pitman, on the hop. It drew some appreciative cheers from an now subdued Loughborough crowd and was the highlight of a flat final quarter.

The game edged towards the final whistle, with Thunder eventually taking the win 40-51.