Manchester Thunder were edged out by defending champions Wasps in a pulsating game at the Ricoh Arena.
The hosts lead for most of the game but were unable to shrug off a persistent Thunder, who never let them lead by more than five.
But ultimately, Wasps were more clinical at vital moments and Thunder left to rue missed opportunities, especially on the turnover.
Black and Yellows head coach Karen Greig was buoyant despite defeat, with Thunder pushing unbeaten Wasps for 60 minutes of tenacious, relentless netball.
“Overall the intensity and the work-rate of the girls and their ability to stick to task was bang-on point tonight,” she said.
“There were times where we really had Wasps rattled and I thought we had enough ball at times where we could have taken the win, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be out game tonight.
“We’ve proven that we are capable of producing quality netball against a top quality side. and next time it could be a different result.”
With very little between the sides, Greig highlighted her team’s defensive performance as her stand-out feature.
She added: “Our through court defence was unbelievable.
“We were unlucky to not get more calls in our favour in defence tonight but we need to take that performance into the next game.”
It was a breathless opening quarter, with Thunder matching the defending champions with intensity, imagination and skill.
Inspired by defensive duo Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond, they did well to suffocate Wasps’ service into their shooters and got occasional success in return, edging into a slender one goal lead at the first break. It was the first time Wasps had lost a quarter this season (17-18).
There was a shift in momentum in the second period, with Wasps forcing a five-goal lead at one point, pouncing on some tentative Thunder play.
Centre court brilliance
It started with a held ball call from Liana Leota on the edge of the Thunder shooting circle, coupled with some aerial blocking from Sam May, who ghosted in and stole possession.
But, as we have seen time and time again, Thunder fought back, hustling and pestering an equally stubborn Wasps side.
Then came some brilliance in centre court, Caroline O’Hanlon, showing quick hands to find Kathryn Turner, who produced a fine feed to Joyce Mvula, who shrugged off her defender to net a difficult chance.
It was the catalyst they needed to stop the rut and a period of poor play transformed into control and measured passing from Thunder, as they headed into half time just two adrift, 33-31.
Match of the season
It was billed as one of the matches of the season before a pass had even been completed, and the first half did nothing to dispel that.
Wasps were playing with two Commonwealth champions – and former Thunder players Nat Haythornthwaite and Jade Clarke – in their ranks – but the Black and Yellows were not fazed and proved an equal match for their hosts, in every area of the court.
Wasps again forced a five-goal lead in the third, but they just did not have that final sting in the tail to kill their visitors off and Thunder marked tight and waited for their chance. But consolidating turnovers has been a bugbear for Greig of her players for most of the season and tonight was no different.
They wasted a number of opportunities here, but the ones they did take were special, and under real scoreboard pressure. Grieg would surely be far more concerned if they weren’t creating them at all.
With four minutes to play, and one turnover in it, May swooped in with a steal and Wasps steamed the ball down to their shooters.
As the clock ticked to two-minutes left, Thunder knew they had to treasure possession and push for a Wasps error, but it never came and instead O’Hanlon was called for a held ball on the edge of the Thunder shooting circle, and the game was gone.
Thunder are next in action against Sirens in Glasgow on Saturday, May 5.
Starting 7: GK Almond, GD Dovey, WD Carter, C O’Hanlon, WA Leota, GA Turner, GS Mvula.