Women's Sport: Manchester Thunder overcome Loughborough Lightning to continue their undefeated run

Vitality Netball Superleague Season Opener

Behind for the entire game, the tenacious, defending Vitality Netball Superleague champions overcame a 12-goal deficit to maintain their place at the top of the table.

Elsewhere, Team Bath continued to show why they are a dangerous prospect to any wanting team as they put on a strong second-half performance to beat Wasps Netball. Strathclyde Sirens secured their first win of the season over a Surrey Storm side still bruised from last week's last-gasp loss. Saracens Mavericks stamped their authority all over Severn Stars who are still yet to bank a win and London Pulse stormed to victory over a weakened Celtic Dragons side to join Bath and Thunder at the top of the table. 

Manchester Thunder 67-64 Loughborough Lightning

Lightning have long been a bogey team for Thunder and as the quarters ticked by it looked again as if Sara Bayman's side - even without an injured Nat Panagarry - would disrupt the visitors' early run of wins. 

From the starting whistle, it was Lightning who seized the initiative. Through the inimitable pairing of Ella Clark and Mary Cholhok, Lighting established an early lead. Responding through Joyce Mvula, who earned her first start of 2020 for the northern franchise, the home team were able to bring things back to within one come the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter, however, was an all-Lightning affair. The visitors were able to extend their lead to an eight-goal margin; the Thunder defence was simply unable to find an answer to Cholhok in the shooting circle. 

It wasn't until the latter moments of the third quarter that Thunder began to form a cohesive response to the scoreline pressure. Slowly but surely they began to find the turnover ball. Entering into the fourth quarter with momentum and a rapturous, sold-out crowd behind them Thunder continued to chip away at the deficit. 

With two minutes remaining, Lightning still led by two goals but with exceptional turnovers coming from Amy Carter and Rebecca Airey, the hosts stole back the lead and secured victory in the game's dying moments. It was, without doubt, a breathless affair.

Team Bath 63-51 Wasps Netball 

With a win against title challengers Mavericks one week prior, two-time back-to-back Superleague winners Wasps initially looked comfortable against Bath. As the first 15 minutes came to an end the visitors to Team Bath Arena, through England veteran Rachel Dunn, had established a five-goal advantage: 15-10. 

As the second quarter unfurled, Bath introduced some changes to try and disrupt the Black and Gold but largely undeterred, Wasps restored their five-goal cushion going into half time: 32-27. 

Daring to make changes, head coach Mel Mansfield introduced Katie Harris and Josie Huckle to court, bumping up Hannah Knights and Fran Williams to goal defence and wing defence respectively. Seizing the opportunity to catch the team on the back-foot Bath, through the determined efforts of their defensive unit, produced a run of seven unanswered goals to take the lead; the home crowd roared in delight. As the quarter came to a close the score sat at 44-42 to Bath.

There was an initial challenge from Wasps at the start of the fourth but Summer Artman and player of the match Tash Pavelin continued to find interceptions quashing any hopes of a Wasps victory. Supported all the way through the match by ruthless shooting from Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis Bath were ultimately victorious, sealing their first win against the Black and Gold in two years.

Strathclyde Sirens 61-53 Surrey Storm 

It was all smiles in Scotland as Sirens produced a comprehensive campaign to defeat Storm in Glasgow in their first win of the 2020 season.

Unlike in their previous two outings where player-coach Mikki Austin was able to rally her side to the point of a resurgence, Storm consistently fell short throughout the encounter, ultimately plagued by an exceptionally high unforced error count.

Winning the first three quarters, and drawing the last Sirens safely dominated. With new South African import Zanele Vimbela proving her worth time and time again in the keeper bib for Sirens and Beth Goodwin shooting at a much improved 91% (after 70% in the Season Opener), there was little Storm could do to overturn the increasing goal deficit put before them. 

Saracens Mavericks - Severn Stars

Having met just two weeks ago at the Season Opener where Mavericks stormed to victory, Stars had hoped to draw things level upon the visit to Hertfordshire.

However, a relentlessly well-executed first quarter from Mavericks quickly put out any hope of a Stars victory. Although initially matching Mavericks in the opening stages, it was around the mid-way point of the first quarter that the hosts suddenly applied the accelerator. Mav's keeper Jo Trip was seamlessly on hand to provide a steady supply of ball to shooter George Fisher and the quarter all but blew out away from the visitors: 19-8

Never seemingly deterred, Stars continued to insist they were in contention throughout the match and at one point genuinely threatened. In the third quarter, the visitors brought the deficit back to within eight goals. However, with Mavericks only missing two shots the entire fixture and doubling Stars' turnover statistics, via the incredibly high work rate of Razia Quashie and Gabbie Marshall, any small notion of a comeback was quickly quelled. 

Mavericks secured their second win of the season leaving Stars going into round four without a win.

London Pulse 69-38 Celtic Dragons

What began as a tentative, almost chess-like encounter blew out into a dominant Pulse display as Celtic Dragons were unable to come up with defensive solutions to the increasingly formidable accuracy of the London outfit's shooting unit. 

Taking their time to settle into the match the first quarter went largely goal-for-goal. Pulse applied a very well structured zone in defence but with much patience, Dragons were still able to find their way through and with no real make-or-break moment, the score at the end of the quarter was 14 a-piece.

Sensing a need to introduce change, head coach Sam Bird brought on a slew of changes towards the latter end of the half including bright, young star Funmi Fadoju. Within one minute the seventeen-year-old produced a momentum-swinging interception and it was Pulse, at half-time, with the upper hand and lead of five goals.

The story of the last two quarters is perhaps best told by the score of the second half; Pulse scored 41 goals and Dragons only 15.

Pulse's shooters Sigi Burger and Chiara Semple, aided by the creative feeds of player-of-the-match Adean Thomas, were rocking a shooting accuracy such that they only missed one shot at a goal each. The South African has now only missed three goals in three games. And with no definitive answer in defence to respond to the unrelenting Pulse shooting machine, and equally, missing a lot of their own shots, Celtic Dragons quickly fell by the wayside with no chance of a return.

Of course, Dragons were missing their star defender in Latanya Wilson after she was sent off against Team Bath the week before. Her absence was missed at the Wales-based outfit are still without a win in the 2020 season. 

Turning ahead to this week, here is the fixture list you need to stay up to date:

Round four

Saturday 14th March

  • Severn Stars v Wasps Netball
  • Surrey Storm v Manchester Thunder

Monday 16th March

  • Loughborough Lightning v Saracens Mavericks
  • Celtic Dragons v Strathclyde Sirens
  • London Pulse v Team Bath
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