Lightning strikes but Thunder prevails.
The weather was hot and the sun was shining but it was the right day for a spot of thunder and lightning (Excuse the pun). Manchester had a mixed performance last week with some great centre pass pressure from the defence against the Jets and having Kerry Almond back in the circle with her partner in crime Emma Dovey. It wasn't smooth sailing in Thunders attacking end and Coach Neville made that a key priority of development. However Manchester Thunder can be very pleased with Alice Travis's solid performance in the final quarter of the game and will be hoping to get more game time today. Lightning are yet to get a win this season so will no doubt be out fighting with their unique style of play that is a mixture of U21 and the Caribbean internationals.
First centre was in Fran Desmond's hands who started her team’s campaign as the effort went out of court but a massive turnover from Lauren Massey fed a long ball into Piggot who sank a shot under the post with ease. Loughborough were making Thunder work in the first five minutes of the quarter playing cat and mouse eventually moving four goals clear with Thunder attack unable to send a response.
The new circle combination of Travis and Turner was still finding its feet with some moments of glory and despair in the circle with too many balls falling out of court. It was with five minutes left in the first that Thunder came alive and took the lead for the first time in the game as Lightning became much more unsettled and under pressure. In the dying minutes of the first quarter Lightning got their lead back but it was quickly levelled by Thunder. A tightly contested first quarter that eventually ended with Lightning with the lead, a really pleasing start to Coach Webb's side.
The second quarter saw Coach Neville move Captain Emma Dovey back to goal defence, and bringing on Kerry Almond at goal keeper who following a positive game last week was certainly itching to get back on court. Thunder levelled the score back up quickly and took the lead. The black and yellow side became more dominant in this quarter with a solid defence who were starting to add the pressure to Lightning's attack and centre court. Travis and Turner continued to develop their partnership with young Alice Travis taking some brilliant passes from Laura Malcolm. With five minutes left in the second it was still very much a closely contested game with no one able to make a certain bet on who was to take the lead. Lightning worked hard in this quarter trying to keep the deficit low with turnovers from Lauren Steadman and former Thunderer Jodie Gibson. At half time the team’s went in with the score at 29-23 to the home team.
Following half time it was Lightning who again turned up the acceleration to decrease their goal difference with a flurry of goals in the first five minutes. A change of position from the Manchester side brought on young Georgie Webster at wing defence and moved Beth Cobden to wing attack. Both teams where really working hard but sharing the errors on court, Lightning were continuing to creep up the score board keeping the pressure on Thunder's shooters. It didn't make Thunder shudder as both Travis and Turner kept the score board ticking. With the crowd still unable to predict which way this match was going to go it was all on the for the final quarter where the home side will be hoping they can keep their lead alive. The third quarter finished 40-35.
There was more changes in Neville's camp for the final quarter bringing back on her starting wing players and Aussie Sam Holt looking to make a big impact in the Lightning circle. The final quarter was fast and physical with both teams really wanting to get this win in The Challenger League. A number of injury time outs further demonstrated how hard both teams were playing. With ten minutes to go Thunder had a seven goal lead but was by no means out of the danger zone. Stand out players in the game featured Laura Malcolm who always delivered in centre court and both Lightning shooters delivering crowd pleasing displays. Rachel Henry was as usual very consistent throughout her time on court with sharp passing up court. As the seconds ticked down Thunder continued to add to their tally with long bombs from Turner. The game finished with Lightning really fighting for a comeback but it was too late as Thunder got the last goal of the game to finish 52-45.
A really impressive display from Lightning who made every pass difficult for the Thunder team who had a mixed display throughout the game, Lightning fought till the end and they will no doubt be disappointed with not cementing the win after all the hard work but can be proud with their performance throughout all four quarters. Thunder can take some positives from the game allowing game time for many of the Thunder camp further demonstrating the depth available on court.
Coach Tracey Neville commented:
"The opportunity to try and cement different partnerships was a definite focus in the game last night and i really wanted to give my young ones some court time and experience at this level. I was disappointed with the number of repetitive errors from key players and the fact we looked tired and off the pace. We still need to address how to implement strategies from training into the court related scenarios but again inexperience does play a huge part."
Starting Seven Thunder: Travis, Turner, Henry, Malcolm, Cobden, Cardwell. Bench: Holt, Housby, Webster, Almond, Enziano.
Lightning: Piggot, Walker, Desmond, Candappa, Steadman, Massey, Forbes- Wattley