Severn Stars 47 Manchester Thunder 48
Manchester Thunder won another remarkable game at Worcester Arena.
At the same venue the Black and Yellows won the Superleague in 2014 with a last-gasp goal, they produced a near-carbon copy finale in this opening game of the 2018 season.
This time with less than 10 seconds on the clock, the ball fell to Amy Clinton, who calmly slotted in the winner to secure a stunning comeback, after her side had been 10 goals down at half time (20-30).
It was a disappointing first half performance across the court from Thunder and Karen Greig was forced into making a number of changes in an attempt to spark her team into life.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for two players on their debut, with new signing Caroline O’Hanlon, while strong and fast, was unable to fully insert her authority at centre.
However, young Amy Carter performed superbly, especially in the second half when she switched to centre.
In such an intense, pressure-cooker game, she showed maturity and vision beyond her years and experience, and was deservedly named Thunder’s Player of the Match.
Post-game, the Tameside club player said: “I feel more comfortable at centre but I did enjoy wing defence and it’s a good position to make your debut and ease into the game.
“Karen told us at half time to get back onto it and commit on everything and that the first half just wasn’t good enough.
“There was a little bit of nerves but once we settled in, we were clean in our passing.”
Thunder’s travelling support may have been outnumbered, but they easily silenced the home fans.
They were relentlessly noisy throughout the game and their support clearly lifted the players in the tense closing stages.
“You feel the momentum shifting on court and you hear the noise from the fans, it lifts you and the adrenaline starts pumping,” added 19-year-old Carter.
“When we pulled it back to five then I thought we could do it by chipping away slowly.
“We ground it out, we kept calm and got that final shot in. It was amazing. You want a calm game for your debut, but what a debut!”
Thunder were sluggish and nervous in the opening quarter as Stars played a high-tempo game, bamboozling Thunder’s hesitant attack.
They managed to restrict their hosts’ lead, and headed into the first break 18-14 down, with Stars six goals up at one point.
Thunder’s poor start continued unto the second quarter, with their attack fractured and unable to penetrate an organised and solid Stars defence, which included former Thunder defender Jodie Gibson at wing defence.
Stars were equally as confident in attack and Thunder were nable to force any kind of momentum, as Stars patiently opened up a 10-goal lead by half time.
Coach Karen Greig had seen enough and made some bold changes, bringing off O’Hanlon and switching Carter to centre. Skingsley came on at wing defence and a quiet Joyce Mvula, despite shooting at 100 per cent, was replaced by Amy Clinton.
They turned out to be inspired, as the fresh legs helped Thunder grow in confidence, scoring four goals on the bounce after the break.
Despite hauling back the score deficit to within four at three-quarter-time, Thunder were still in danger of starting the new season with a loss.
But this side is famed for digging deep into whatever reserve they have left in the tank, they sensed disorder in the Stars ranks and, buoyed by their noisy fans, they pushed on, forced turnovers and wrestled control back.
Skingsley was vital in shutting out the first line of the Stars attack and Clinton, despite a mini wobble midway through the fourth quarter, was calm and assured in a high-pressure situation.
Thunder’s defence was the key to the turnaround as Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey produced a series of timely intercepts. Kathryn Turner levelled the scores and her shooting partner then snatched victory in the dying seconds.
It was a breath-taking end to the game, as Thunder steam-rolled a shell-shocked Stars, and their bench, coaches and travelling fans were understandably euphoric as the final whistle blew.
Report by Denise Evans
Don’t miss our first home game of the season against Sirens on Monday, February 19. Buy tickets here