Manchester Thunder won a pulsating tie against Loughborough Lighting to record their sixth win on the bounce..
Thunder were facing the Superleague’s surprise package who will – especially on this performance – still have hopes of making the semi-finals this season.
It was a rapid first five minutes to the game, but Thunder managed to edge it after capitalising on an athletic intercept from Sara Bayman.
Jodie Gibson, starting at goal keeper for Thunder, was particularly vocal in what quickly became a physical battle as both defences pushed for a turnover.
A lucky flick from an off-balance Kathryn Turner and some neat footwork from Chelsea Pitman helped the home side finish the quarter strongly, 19-13 ahead.
The second quarter played out like the first, with Ugandan star Proscovia continuing to cause problems for Gibson and Emma Dovey with her unorthodox style. But Gibson persisted with the defensive game that won her the player of the match last time out against Celtic Dragons, and managed to force a number of key turnovers.
The players in purple kept their marking tight in the hope of forcing errors from their opposition. And it paid off with a couple of uncharacteristic slack passes from Bayman duly taken advantage of by Lightning. The visitors’ captain Rachel Henry, returning to the Thunderdome for the first time after making the switch from Thunder in the close season , was fired up, visibly showing her frustrations at a number of umpire calls.
Neither team really took hold of the match as the end of the half approached, with the game becoming scrappy and open.
Thunder came out with renewed purpose in the second half, with Kerry Almond, who came on at on at keeper, making an instant impact.
Gibson moved to goal defence and the new defensive combination seemed much more effective. Thunder’s attack continued to reward the defence with accurate shooting.
Chelsea Pitman was getting more luck against Lightning’s Lauren Steadman and exercised her impressive range of passes to feed the shooters.
Thunder, playing in pink in aid of Cancer Research UK, struggled to gain any kind of sustained momentum though and Lightning kept their score ticking over to. It finished 50-38 at the end of the third. Beth Cobden entered the game at wing defence, with Laura Malcolm switching to centre as Bayman moved to the bench.
With the game slipping away, errors started to creep into Loughborough’s game and Thunder were now in no mood to let them off.
The reigning champions began to dominate the centre court, with the new trio of Malcolm, Pitman and Cobden dictating play.
Pitman’s feeds to her shooters were among the best the Aussie had produced all season. Almond also had the better of Proscovia and with their target player quiet, Loughborough’s heads started to drop.
Chelsea Pitman, player of the match, said: “I don’t look at it as an individual performance, it is the team that really gets you player of the match.
“I work on my ball skills and that is something as a netballer in Australia we are taught to work on from grass-roots level.
“You can be as fast or slow as you like but as long as you have good ball skills, you’ll be a great netball player.
“I think we had a pretty slow start and Loughborough took it to us but in the end we found space and weren’t running on top of each other. It was a case of brushing off the cobwebs and getting the job done.”
Match Report by Denise Evans
Photos by Mark Pritchard