Well, it was always going to be a gruelling night at the Thunderdome. Manchester Thunder secured their place in the Grand Final after an explosive semi-final against Team Bath on Kerry Almond’s last ever home game.
It wasn’t the greatest of starts for Thunder. Bath managed to grab two early turnovers, one on the first centre pass of the game, to shake up the nerves. Thunder looked a little apprehensive to begin with, and for a moment it seemed that the nerves may have affected them. Given that Bath have won both games against the Black and Yellows this season, it wouldn’t be a great shock to find out that Thunder were tense. But it wasn’t long before Almond made her first of many crucial interceptions, and Thunder were back in the game.
Bath took a four goal lead in the opening ten minutes but once Thunder settled down, it was clear we had a game on our hands. A big response from defensive duo Almond and Emma Dovey ensured Thunder were back in the running. They eventually took a lead, and although Bath drew level at times, they never fell behind again.
The second quarter brought more of the same. Thunder had found a defensive system that worked, with Dovey and Almond turning up the heat on Bath’s attacking pair. But Bath have England Rose Serena Guthrie in their ranks, and her combinations with Rachel Shaw were a threat to Thunder, combined with the shooting prowess of Kim Commane. At times the game went goal for goal, and long periods of time passed without either team able to force a goal. But it was these long exchanges where Thunder frequently came out on top. They were tenacious, hunting every ball.
A couple of mistakes from Bath allowed Thunder to maintain their lead, Imogen Allison lobbing the ball into the D with no one there to receive it, and trying to be quick on the break but finding themselves left with no options in the attacking circle. But the lead was only by one and Thunder still had an immense task on their hands.
Thunder started the third quarter with hunger, they tallied up three goals within a matter of seconds and looked to put the game to bed. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from Bath this season, it’s that they can’t be written off. A couple of mistakes crept in for Thunder, they were, at times, wasteful with turnovers. They strived to regain possession, only to lose it moments later. That being said, they still managed to head into the final quarter five goals to the good.
As we know, anything can happen in Netball, and five goals may seem like a lot but Thunder still had a job to do. The tension was palpable but the atmosphere in the Wright Robinson was electric and undoubtedly helped Thunder over the line.
Almond flew in early with another crucial interception, a superb performance from her in the last home game of her career. Thunder were confident on the ball and spent periods of play just keeping hold of possession. A dangerous game to play with only three goals in it but Thunder seemed at ease and picked their moments to take it to goal.
A couple of outstanding passes from Liana Leota out of nowhere to find Mvula alone in the D gave Thunder the chance to push their lead. Leota and Caroline O’Hanlon combined well to provide the shooters with those key moments. With two minutes to go, it seemed Thunder had it in the bag. A huge boost of confidence against a team that have beat Thunder twice in the league.
Unbelievably, both sides were unchanged throughout. A feat of sheer athletic stamina to work at such high intensity for 60 minutes. But in the end it was Thunder who came out on top and have booked their place in the Grand Final through sheer determination and tenacity. And, rightfully so.
The Grand Final will take place next Saturday, 18th May at the Copperbox Arena in London. Tickets are available here >> http://bit.ly/ThunderFinal
Thunder: Almond, Dovey, Malcolm, O’Hanlon, Leota, Turner, Mvula
Bath: Artman, Usoro-Brown, Allison, Guthrie, Shaw, Drakeford-Lewis, Commane
Player of the Match: Joyce Mvula