Manchester Thunder 72 v Celtic Dragons 52


Manchester Thunder made hard work of victory of Welsh rivals Celtic Dragons at the Thunderdome.

The Black and Yellows were playing their first home game of the season and ran out 72-52 winners. Dragons had a poor first half but were a different side in the second, outscoring Thunder 12-18 in the third quarter. 

Thunder must iron out this early unwelcome habit of losing their momentum for a quarter, with Team Bath, who they face next, likely to punish them. 

​Coach Dan Ryan recognises the need to stay focused for the full 60 minutes, but was also keen to pick out the positives from a game that played out in front of a noisy sell-out crowd. “We’re pretty happy to start the season with two wins and a 20-goal margin over the Dragons is a good win. We had three fantastic quarters but were pretty off the pace in the third quarter and credit to Dragons as they were sensational in that quarter,” the Australian conceded. 

He added: “We have to look at that and see what changed from our perspective – we made personnel changes but the game plan hadn’t shifted. We’ve had a rough quarter in both the opening matches and we’ll need to look at putting it all together in training this week.”

Shooter Helen Housby, who was named player of the match, said she ‘felt good’ to be back in the Thunderdome. “I’ve missed playing here. Player of the match is surreal as there were parts of my game today that I know I need to improve.”

Thunder started at a blistering pace and showed their attacking intent from the first whistle.  They dominated the opening quarter, with England shooting duo Helen Housby and Natalie Haythornthwaite combining well.

Dragons kept the marking tight, making it hard for Thunder to find space – but the home side’s passing, especially Liana Leota’s, was creative and rapid, helping them to find a way through. The second period played out similarly to the first, with Thunder controlling the game in the centre court, led by Sara Bayman, who produced a number of her signature audacious passes. Thunder had a healthy and much deserved 40-20 lead at the end of the second quarter. But the Thunder that turned out after the half time break was remarkably different to the one we saw before it, with the Dragons taking full advantage of their opponents’ hesitant and error-strewn play.

Thunder simply didn’t adjust to player changes quickly enough, with influential Leota and Bayman moved to the bench. However, Gabby Marshall, who played at centre and then wing defence was a real bright spark for the Black and Yellows in the second half. Thunder did assert their dominance at certain periods of the final quarter, and their defence produced some timely tips and athletic intercepts throughout the match, to make sure Thunder kept their 20-goal cushion.

Ultimately, Thunder were too strong for Dragons and their second half comeback, although impressive, was ultimately in vain due to Thunder’s powerful start and ability to move the ball from defender to shooter with fluidity and flair.

Report by Denise Evans :: Photos by Mark Pritchard