It was always going to be a tough game for Manchester Thunder. A convincing win in Saturday’s match against London Pulse set the stage for a bumper weekend but, in the end, it wasn’t meant to be for Thunder who fell just shy of victory against Loughborough Lightning.
After yesterday’s win over Pulse and a definite spot in the top four up for grabs, it was all to play for in this highly contested tie. Lightning beat Thunder earlier on in the season and clearly came to Glasgow with a similar game plan, which saw off Thunder in the final quarter.
The opening 15 minutes were tough for Thunder but an early turnover allowed them to take a lead. Lightning took a few minutes to settle into the game but it soon became apparent that the game was going to be a feisty one. Each side held the lead for what seemed like only seconds, before the other swooped in and stole the glory once again. The turnovers were coming thick and fast, and so were the goals.
Liana Leota was cautioned within the first ten minutes for persistent contact, Natalie Panagarry had a clear strategy for tackling the New Zealander. With Leota’s attacking influence slightly muffled, Thunder struggled to assert themselves as an attacking force, with the exception of some moments of brilliance from Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm.
It was all square heading into the second quarter, and Thunder seemed to hold the majority of the momentum. They managed to hustle themselves a lead and maintain it going into the second half, thanks to some immense interceptions from O’Hanlon and a couple of mistakes on Lightning’s part.
Thunder looked dangerous on the counter attack as they displayed bursts of pace and were able to up the tempo to take the lead. Even when they, on occasion, fell behind, it seemed that momentum was on their side and they would eventually be able to turn the tables.
The third quarter brought intensity, grit and determination from both sides. The travelling Thunder crowd grew in noise as the hunger grew on court. Carter arrived at WD, replacing Laura Malcolm in the position. The defensive trio of Carter, Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond worked well together as a team, blocking Lightning’s opportunities getting into the semi-circle and leaping for every ball under the post.
At the attacking end, Mvula did not manage to find the same form as Saturday’s 31 from 31, instead bagging 31 from her 37 chances. Kathryn Turner shot at an impressive 96% but at times lacked options in the D and was forced to shoot under time constraints. Thunder held the lead on several occasions but it was still down to the wire as the buzzer sounded for the end of the third quarter.
The tension was palpable heading into the final quarter with both sides aware of the gravitas of the 15 minutes ahead. Lightning found their rhythm in the early stages of the quarter and managed to maintain their stride until the end. They took a three goal lead five minutes into the quarter and as the clock ticked down it just seemed like too much of a mountain to climb for Thunder.
Head Coach Karen Greig swapped Leota for Malcolm at WA, a rare change for the Black and Yellows, but something had to be done. Lightning were successfully stifling Leota’s presence on court and with it, one of Thunder’s primary sources of attack. Rebekah Airey also arrived at GD to replace Captain Dovey, after her successful stint in the position on Saturday against Pulse.
Despite the fact that only one or two goals separated the two sides for the majority of the quarter, Thunder struggled to establish themselves within the time that was left. Contact calls went against them and a couple of mistakes began to creep in as the frustration at the score-line grew. In the end, Lightning asked too many questions of Thunder in the closing stages of the game and punished mistakes ruthlessly.
Thunder are back in Manchester on Saturday 27th April at Wright Robinson against Team Bath. Tickets for that game are sold out.
Thunder: Mvula, Turner, Leota, O’Hanlon, Malcolm, Dovey, Almond
Lightning: Cholhok, Clark, Joseph, Shaw, Panagarry, Oyesola, Keenan
Photo Credit: Eliza Morgan