Manchester Thunder showcased their quality in front of the Sky Sports cameras in a hard-fought 62-47 victory over Superleague newbies London Pulse.
Thunder were quick off the mark in the first quarter, the return of Liana Leota’s name to the team sheet proved a reassuring sight.
The position of WA has been held down well by Laura Malcolm in Leota’s absence, but it was certainly a welcome relief to see the partnership of Caroline O’Hanlon and Leota back in action.
Leota’s return and a start for Rebekah Airey at WD showed head coach Karen Greig was not afraid to shake up her starting seven.
Both shooters Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula enjoyed success under the post, with Turner maintaining a 100% shooting record deep into the second quarter, despite England Roses GD Ama Agbeze’s best efforts to quash Thunder’s lead.
Speed was the key in the first half and Thunder were able to take advantage of Pulse’s mistakes, rewarding themselves for their efforts as the goals flew in.
Pulse kept the pressure high leading into the close of the first half, Thunder managing to etch out a five goal lead. Thunder couldn’t quite pull away and Pulse will have gone into the second half hoping to get something from the game.
Undoubtedly, something was different about Pulse in the third quarter and Thunder struggled to force them out of the game, unable to find the darting passes into the D they had enjoyed in the first half.
Pulse are no strangers to a comeback, proving their resilience at the Super 10s up against a Severn Stars side who had become complacent. Thunder could not turn the pressure off and allow Pulse to take advantage.
Eleanor Cardwell came in at GS to replace Mvula, and it took her a few minutes to settle into the position. But by the last five minutes of the third quarter, Thunder had dispelled any chance of a Pulse comeback and Cardwell’s shooting prowess shone through, under the watchful eye of England Roses coach Tracey Neville.
Alongside a reliable Turner, who consistently slipped away from Agbeze’s grip, the pair proved their worth in the closing stages of play.
Thunder’s performance in the closing minutes of the third quarter was testament to their patience and stamina. Airey was swapped out for Carter and the fresh legs on the court made a difference. Thunder were able to cement a ten goal lead and from their it looked like a done deal.
The final quarter was, ultimately, slower than the rest as both teams started to show signs of fatigue. Almond made way for Airey at GK and Malcolm replaced Leota at WA.
The Black and Yellows enjoyed large spells of possession and bided their time in searching for that key pass to release the shooters. Momentum was key and it was unquestionably on Thunder’s side as the minutes ticked by. The quality of the interchanges from the bench added to this momentum showing the added strength in depth Thunder have this season.
O’Hanlon received her second consecutive Player of the Match for a stand out, yet signature, performance in centre court.
Head Coach Karen Greig commented: “It may not have been a polished or complete performance and it was certainly a tight battle against a determined Pulse side. I’m happy to take the win and the three points at this early stage of the season. We learn, build and go again this Saturday against Severn Stars.”
Thunder’s next home game will be against Loughborough Lightning on the 16th February. You can grab tickets for that here >> http://bit.ly/thuvlightning
Thunder: Almond, Dovey, Airey, O’Hanlon, Leota, Turner, Mvula
Pulse: Ngwira, Agbeze, Toner, Long, Neal, Semple, Slater
Player of the Match: Caroline O’Hanlon