Manchester Thunder 56 v 47 Loughborough Lightning
It was a game where both defences excelled, with Thunder’s Jamaican import Malysha Kelly and Lightning’s in-form England defender Ama Agbeze restricting two world-class attacks. Black and Yellows coach Dan Ryan said post-match: “We expected that Lightning would come out hard. They really put out a strong performance for 60 minutes, and made sure we had to work extremely hard to get on top of them. For the whole game they were on our backs and we never felt comfortable.” Ryan was keen to praise both defences, claiming neither attacking line was able to ‘get in their flow’. “Fortunately for us we were able to win balls at critical times and convert them. It was very much a defensive game. Malysha had the toughest task today but she got some great rebounds at key times. The work-rate of Nat Haythornthwaite and Sara Bayman in the attacking line was critical for us but it was Malysha’s ability to win the ball that sealed it for us. We were able to win and not be as slick as we were two days earlier, which is actually a good sign for us. We can work on a lot of areas of our game and improve. Lightning made us do things we hadn’t been forced to do in previous games,” he added.
It was a close first half, with two experienced centre-courters in Bayman and Lightning’s captain Jade Clarke battling it out, making sure it was an intense and unpredictable contest. Lightning defender Agbeze was continuing her blistering early-season form and made Helen Housby work tirelessly to find any kind of space. But Thunder’s defence was also offering little to the Lightning shooters, with Kelly again cool and assured, supported by an athletic Emma Dovey and later a determined Jodie Gibson.
Despite Lightning defender Jo Trip’s best efforts to thwart her, a bold and dogged Natalie Haythornthwaite had a superb first half, scoring all 11 of her attempts. She brought style and determination to her second half display, too, to prove just how much an important acquisition she was for Thunder in the off-season.
Thunder forced the momentum at the end of the second quarter and went into the break 19-26 to the good.
Lightning started the second half positivity, knowing Thunder’s advantage was far from unassailable. They closed the gap to within four as Thunder began to lose their composure, but Liana Leota showed all of her experience to slow the play down and force Thunder into patient, keep-ball build up. Housby was now being forced into long-shots only, and Lightning’s relentless defensive pressure continued. The home side kept probing and played with the belief that they could turn it around, but ultimately Thunder’s defence matched theirs and the Black and Yellows were able to rely on their shooters’ range in the circle to see out the win.
Thunder starting 7
GK Kelly, GD Dovey, WD Marshall, C Bayman, WA Leota, GA Haythornthwaite, GS Housby