It was a difficult night in Manchester for Thunder, who fell to defeat thanks to a gutsy Team Bath performance.
Bath made it two out of two as they took their second victory of the season over Thunder. Much like the first time the two sides met, it was a physical battle, as was to be expected with a spot in the top four and therefore the semi-finals up for grabs. But it wasn’t to be for Thunder who struggled to establish themselves as the game wore on.
Thunder flew out of the blocks and it looked like they were well and truly up for this match up. Immediately the physical battles began to emerge, Caroline O’Hanlon and England Rose Serena Guthrie at C, and Laura Malcolm showed signs of causing chaos at WD. A couple of huge interceptions from her in the opening 15 minutes put the Thunder crowd in a good mood. Along with some signature blocks and interventions from Kerry Almond, Thunder managed to draw out an early lead.
The second quarter saw a much less intense battle between the two sides. Thunder were unable to win key turnovers and Bath eventually drew level. The score stuck at 20-20 for what seemed like an eternity, with both sides trading turnovers yet both unable to convert to break the deadlock. Eventually, it was Bath who took the opportunity and this appeared to be a turning point in the game.
Guthrie went on to provide the Thunderdome with a mid-court masterclass and Bath were able to shut down Thunder’s attack by blocking Ellie Cardwell effectively and cutting off the play, forcing the errors from Thunder. At times, Kathryn Turner and Liana Leota ran out of options going forward, and were caught out for held ball. Otherwise, it was a case of resetting and trying again by sending the ball backwards to Almond and Emma Dovey. Obstacles appeared across court and it was proving a difficult task for Thunder to overcome them.
As the second half rolled around, Head Coach Karen Greig wasted no time in ringing in the changes. Rebekah Airey came on at WD in place of Malcolm, and Joyce Mvula slotted in at GS to replace Cardwell. Bath stretched out a five goal lead early on in the third quarter, but as the new arrivals settled in Thunder managed to draw level. A mistake from Eboni Usoro-Brown provided Thunder with the opportunity to regain control and take the lead but, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Thunder fans were in full voice at the Wright Robinson and the unmistakable sound of the drum willed the Black and Yellows to make the comeback. Thunder finished the quarter three goals behind and faced a huge final quarter to bridge the gap and make up the deficit.
Amy Carter arrived at WD in place of Airey, the third player in that position in this game. The combination of Guthrie and Rachel Shaw was proving lethal and Thunder needed someone to make an impact. But it was a tough ask for anyone and the momentum, and decisions, were on Bath’s side.
As the final 15 minutes wore on, it seemed like the opportunity would not fall to Thunder. For the most part, they maintained control on their centre pass, displaying those bursts of pace from centre to goal that we have grown accustomed to when watching Thunder. But just converting the centre pass wasn’t enough and Thunder couldn’t find that crucial turnover.
Bath showed composure and resilience, despite an increasingly frustrated crowd cheering Thunder on. Kimberley Commane’s shooting was impressive, even under the pressure of Thunder’s defensive duo. Bath remained unchanged throughout the whole 60 minutes, delivering an imposing performance to say the least.
As the clock wore down it seemed that chances of a comeback were off the cards. Bath went eight goals ahead at one point, Thunder faced an uphill battle. Airey made her second appearance of the evening, this time at GK as Almond made way. Thunder continued to search for a break through as the match went goal for goal. Cardwell returned to court, this time at GA to replace Turner.
But despite the changes, Bath’s aggression and physicality proved too much for Thunder and a stand out performance from Guthrie along with notable shooting performances from Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis were enough for Bath to take the victory and the three points.
The result means that nothing is guaranteed in terms of top four places heading into the final round of the Vitality Netball Superleague. There are still three semi-final spots up for grabs. Thunder face Surrey Storm away on Saturday 4th May for their final match of the regular season.
Thunder: Cardwell, Turner, Leota, O’Hanlon, Malcolm, Dovey, Almond
Bath: Commane, Drakeford-Lewis, Shaw, Guthrie, Allison, Usoro-Brown, Artman