Play-Off eliminator – Hertfordshire Sports Village
Reigning Netball Superleague champions Manchester Thunder booked themselves a place in the semi-final stage after securing a hard fought win over Hertfordshire Mavericks in Hatfield last night.
Tracey Neville’s side triumphed 47-38 in a contest that was fraught, anxious and engrossing. They now go on to battle Team Bath on Sunday for a place in the Grand Final while Karen Atkinson and her team bow out for the 2013 campaign.
The two opposing sides entered yesterday’s match in contrasting runs of form. The hosts had slipped to seven successive losses while the travelling Thunder contingent had recorded the polar opposite and came into the crucial clash with seven straight wins under their belt.
Tensions amongst the hosts’ ranks was apparent from the opening whistle as Thunder were able to turnover the very first centre-pass with Sara Bayman finding Kathryn Turner free in the circle to open the scoring. Mavericks then repaid the favour but couldn’t convert to goal as the visitors moved two ahead.
From the next centre-pass Rose Morgan-Smith found Sophie Hankin but the ball was to hot handle and burst through the grasp of the youngster’s hands. Luckily, Sasha Corbin was alert enough to retrieve possession, the England mid-courter then found Hankin to open the Mavs account and calm the early nerves.
A call of held ball on Janelle Lawson allowed the home side to level things up as the contest started to set alight. The cautious approach was making for exciting viewing as interceptions, turnovers and contested ball became common place. The end of a thrilling quarter saw Mavericks edge into a 10-9 lead.
There were chances for the home side to extend their lead early in the second quarter with Hankin looking in fantastic touch in the circle, nailing several shots with her unorthodox technique. However, Laura Malcolm was in no mood to allow the opposition to pull clear and her excellent steal allowed Thunder to reply through Lawson and level the scores.
As the half moved towards a close, Emma Dovey also showed how well she can read the game by ghosting in and taking an interception from Alice Ewer’s attempted pass. Thunder converted and were able to remain in the lead through to half-time as Turner netted in the last second to open up a two goal lead, 22-20.
Neville made some changes for the third quarter, introducing Beth Cobden at WD and moving Laura Malcolm to C as Bayman continues to be eased back into action following injury. 16 year-old Alice Travis replaced Turner in the shooting circle with Lawson switching to GA.
The shooting combination worked well from the start as Travis pulled the Mavericks defence out of the circle and opened the space for Lawson to exploit. The increasingly impressive Rachel Henry was pulling the strings at WA for the away side and although they were not overly dominant, they were looking more composed in possession.
Mavericks continued to hang onto their visitors but it seemed much harder than their opponents to craft scoring opportunities, in spite of the incredibly noisy home support. As the pressure increased, so did the inaccuracy in the hosts shooting and Thunder were able to increase the gap by the end of the quarter. They moved into a commanding 35-29 advantage with fifteen minutes remaining.
In an attempt to grab the initiative, Atkinson moved Corbin into C and switched Morgan-Smith to WD. Michaela McFarlane plugged the gap at WA, Thunder were unchanged. A quick fire treble pulled those in black and yellow further clear and finally silence a passionate crowd. A trio of misses in quick succession compounded the pain for the home fans.
The sides exchanged scores but there was never a sense of unease in the Thunder play as they looked to comfortably see out the game. The tempo was slowed as time run down and the team from Manchester confirmed their place in the semi-final.
A capacity crowd rose as one when the final whistle was sounded. Partly to applaud the hosts for a fantastic season which unfortunately fell short, but also to congratulate Thunder as they now move and seek to capture their ninth victory in a row and progress to the Showdown Grand Final.
Mavericks starting 7: GS - Ewer, GA - Hankin, WA - Corbin, C – Morgan-Smith, WD - Haynes, GD - Hutchinson, GK – Keable
On the bench: Guscoth, Joseph, Austin, Huckle, McFarlane
Thunder starting 7: GS - Lawson, GA - Turner, WA - Henry, C - Bayman, WD - Malcolm, GD - Dovey, GK - Almond
On the bench: Holt, Cardwell, Cobden, Enziano, Travis Umpires:
Janice Treasure and Jackie Mizon with Tracy Smith as reserve