The Black and Yellows were outplayed by a dogged Jets side who lead throughout until the final six minutes, when a vital intercept from Emma Dovey proved to be the catalyst for a late Thunder surge.
Coach Dan Ryan will be concerned with a second off-colour performance in a week from his troupes. But ultimately they showed great spirit to see-off a Yorkshire Jets side who will be scratching their heads as to how they ended up the losing side. Ryan, who was managing in his first Battle of the Roses match, said : “There is a feeling of relief and that was a great spectacle for the fans. But it was horrible from a coaching point of view. We struggled to get going and didn’t come to life until the final quarter. Jets were sensational and their shooting percentage was amazing. It is so great that the eighth ranked team in the competition can push the top ranked team for as hard as they did for as long as they did. It’s great for Superleague. They had terrific pressure through the court and made us work so hard. We were lucky to get away with it.”
The Jets defence – led by captian Stacey Francis – suffocated Thunder’s attack, which lacked width and imagination. Coach Ryan changed up his side more than any other match so far this season.
Former Jets player Natalie Haythornthwaite started at wing attack in the absence of Liana Leota, and Kathryn Turner took her opportunity at goal attack.
But a tactical switch meant the Liverpudlian made way for Housby, who moved from shooter for the remainder of the game. Haythornthwaite also found herself watching from the sidelines before re-entering the game for the final phases, as Hoult took her bow in senior Thunder colours for the first time.
Housby was boxed-in on too many occasions in the first half, which lead to a number of Thunder attacks breaking down on the edge of the shooting circles – and miss-placed passes being launched into thin-air. Cardwell – Housby’s replacement at shooter – put in arguably her best performances in a Thunder dress since her player of the match showing in the 2012 Superleague final, where she played in defence. Cardwell stood up strong to an organised Jets defence and came up with excellent movement and shooting when the pressure on Thunder to turn the game around was at its most intense.
Jamaican keeper Malysha Kelly was having mixed success against an in-form and eventual player of the match Vanes-Mari Du Toit and Ryan rolled the dice by switching her with Gibson and bringing on Dovey after the half-time break. It would turn out to be a coaching master-stroke.
Jets found themselves with a seven-goal cushion at various periods in the match, and a topsy-turvy third quarter – in which Laura Malcolm entered the fray to replace a relatively assured Gabby Marshall – allowed for a grandstand finale. Malcolm’s inclusion offered vital experience and support to Thunder’s last-line of defence in Gibson and Dovey.
Jets’ ruthless attacking play offered very little to Thunder’s defence, who themselves had failed to gain any rhythm or fluidity – until that pivotal Dovey intercept with the clock ticking down. The momentum swung completely in the visitors’ favour and Jets had nothing left in the tank to overhaul the scoreline and Thunder completed a remarkable turnaround. On this performance, it is hard to see why Jets remain winless and rooted to the bottom of the Superleague. But it does set things up perfectly for the return fixture – Netball Manchester Live at the Manchester Arena on April 18 – which is sure to be bursting with more unpredictability and drama.
Report by Denise Evans :: Photo Credit to Tom Nokes