The Black and Yellows started strongly but Lightning gradually grew into the game, as Thunder’s resilience wavered. It was an uncharacteristically inconsistent performance from the Black and Yellows and they will likely need to up their game if they are to beat defending champions Surrey Storm at Super Ten in Birmingham next week. But despite the result, coach Karen Greig, who was managing her first Superleague game, insists there are still plenty of positives to take from the game. She said: “That’s not the result we wanted from the first game but when we stuck to task and our principles we played some awesome netball. We just weren’t consistent enough and there was a lot of nerves out there today, with new combinations that will get better and stronger with time. We were down by eight at half time and had the character to chip away in the third quarter to come within three and then to get within one in the last quarter, it’s disappointing that we we’re able to settle, focus and push on. It imploded a bit and we took our foot off the gas but we will learn from it. We always knew Loughborough was going to be a tough game and they have some really good players, especially having Peace Proscovia in the circle. Surrey are in a very similar situation as us in terms of a new-look squad, but we know what we can do and what our strengths are. If we can get that right, we are good enough to take on any team in the league.”
Thunder came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders, racing into a six-goal lead. But Lightning gradually worked their way into the game and forced a lead of their own, benefiting from some basic errors from Thunder. Malawian shooter Joyce Mvula, on debut, looked right at home in the Superleague and was not phased by the physicality of the Lightning defence.
Thunder struggled to contain Lightning’s pace in the centre court and Greig attempted to combat that by bringing on Sophie Morgan midway through the second quarter, which worked in phases. And there were moments of brilliance from last season’s Superleague Grand Finalists, with former New Zealand international Liana Leota at the heart of a number of them. Leota’s experience, range of passing and leadership was key to bringing Thunder back to within three goals by the end of the third period, after they had fallen behind by 10 goals at one point.
Young shooter Amy Clinton’s introduction in the second half also made a difference, as the England U21 refused to be bullied in the circle and held her nerve to sink a number of difficult shots. Thunder started the fourth quarter like the first and clawed the score back to just a single goal deficit and the previously buoyant crowd had now gone silent. But Thunder failed to push on and Lightning didn’t panic and they finished strongly.
Starting 7: GK Kerry Almond, GD Emma Dovey, WD Bea Skingsley, C Gabby Marshall, WA Liana Leota, GA Kathryn Turner, GS Joyce Mvula
End of Q1 14-12
Half time 28-20
End of Q3 39-36
Full time 59-45
Report by Denise Evans