But they will be encouraged after producing arguably their best performance of the season to restrict Thunder to just 40 goals in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Coach Tracey Neville fielded the same starting seven for the third game in a row, clearly reluctant to shake things up despite Thunder already safely in the semi-finals.
Thunder did not start well and were second best to Bath, especially in the attacking third. The Black and Yellows needed to be more patient with their passing in the centre court, with rushed passes going astray and Bath were in no mood to let them go unpunished. England defenders Sam Cook and Stacey Francis were combining well and suffocated Thunder’s attack. It resulted in a couple of missed shots from Housby and turnovers in the circle, which were duly consolidated by Bath at the other end.
Thunder started the second with more intensity but they still struggled to find any kind of rhythm through the court. Bath – on the other hand – were buoyed by the home crowd and kept the momentum that carried them through the first quarter.
Thunder were finding a way to turn it over but a weak pass from Laura Malcolm was pounced on by Bath. However the England centre-courter made up for her error with an athletic intercept from Bath’s next centre pass. The away side called a time-out and Krista Enziano came on at shooter, with Housby shifting to goal attack.
The change worked almost instantly, with Thunder much more assured in attack.
Enziano netted a tough long-range effort to level the score and moments later Thunder took the lead for the first time in the game, with just over a minute of the quarter to play.
The stubborn Bath defence managed to prevent Thunder from moving any further ahead and the visitors had a slender 18-19 lead at half time. Bath started the second half aggressively but Housby refused to be bullied by Francis in the shooting third. Enziano was left frustrated with a contentious call for contact and with the game now so open, every mistake was proving to be costly. Thunder refused to wilt under the pressure and forced a two-goal lead, 25-27, and were suddenly the hungrier team for the ball. The lead swiftly moved to four goals and Thunder finished the quarter the stronger side.
Bath stopped a run of Thunder dominance at the start of the final quarter following great work from Scot Claire Brownie. They were now forcing Thunder to move the ball backwards, with their shooters given no room to manoeuvre. Midway through the fourth captain Sara Bayman was down and receiving treatment while Neville and her coaching staff took the opportunity to bark orders at their team.
With just a turnover separating the two sides, it became a case of who could handle the growing tension – and noise – the best. It was certainly a game for the defenders and Thunder keeper Kerry Almond, who has been consistently solid all season, worked tirelessly with Emma Dovey at goal defence. Beth Cobden, who came on at wing defence before moving to wing attack for the closing stages, played out of her skin and was Thunder’s player of the match. And Thunder’s experience and ability to keep the ball was just enough to hold off Bath as the clock ticked down.
Thunder remain unbeaten in the Superleague and will face Roses rivals Yorkshire Jets in the next round at the Thunderdome.
Tracey Neville’s player of the match Beth Cobden said: “I have been waiting for an opportunity to give it my all and I just gave it my all and I’m pleased with my performance. “It wasn’t our best performance but credit to them as their defence was excellent today. ”I think in other games we’ve not played to the defence as much and I think we have a lot to work on but it was still good to get the win.
Match Report by Denise Evans