Just four games into the new season, Grangetown Netball Club’s Premier League squad took on Bristol-based Premier Romans in a crucial match at Middlesbrough Sports Village on Sunday afternoon.
Defeat at Team Jets in Jersey the previous weekend had seen Grangetown drop to the foot of National Division 2 with just one win from their opening matches. Premier Romans were one of four other sides to have recorded a single victory, and the winner was almost guaranteed to climb several places up the table.
Having travelled to the Channel Islands with only seven fit players, Grangetown were able to pick from a full strength squad, which included Scotland shooter Gemma Sole and influential centre Jill Reah, who had recovered from a foot injury. In addition, head coach Gel Williams handed debuts to defender Genevieve Slater and shooter Jan Hynes, both of whom are regular fixtures in the Republic of Ireland’s national side.
There was little to choose between the teams as the game got underway, with the first nineteen goals all going with centre pass. With Ria Small prominent, Kate Williams and Faye Summerhill had shown assurance and excellent understanding in the circle in an opening quarter where almost every shooting opportunity was converted by both teams, but momentum swung the way of the Romans after a footwork penalty was awarded against the home side and the visitors scored twice in quick succession.
Grangetown worked hard to create two turnovers in the next few minutes, but lost possession on both occasions, errors which allowed Premier Romans to extend their lead to four goals by the end of the first quarter.
Genevieve Slater, Marie Ewing and Gemma Sole were all introduced at the start of the second period. The teams again traded goals in the opening minutes before a dubious “held ball” penalty was awarded against Jill Reah. The Romans took full advantage with shooter Charlie Mead continuing to find the net from all parts of the circle.
Trailing by six goals, Grangetown suddenly found their best form, and netted five goals without reply. Jill Reah forced an interception and a series of great passes and quick movement gave Gemma Sole the opportunity to score from what had been the best move of the match.
Unfortunately the ball was immediately turned over from the resulting centre pass and although Jenny Mrozik and Gen Slater combined to complete another interception, the hosts relinquished possession once again. Grangetown seemed to be rushing certain aspects of their play, and their mistakes enabled the Romans to assume control once again. They put pressure on the ball, especially in Grangetown’s defensive third, passed well and retained their impressive shooting accuracy. It looked like the visitors would take a four-goal lead into half time, but Gemma Sole scored right on the hooter to keep Premier Romans within touching distance.
Having produced an outstanding third quarter against Team Jets in their previous game, Grangetown again produced some excellent netball after the interval. With Ireland’s Jan Hynes joining Gemma Sole, the international shooting partnership made the most of defensive interceptions by Vicky Rees and Gen Slater, and with Jill Reah and Marie Ewing directing proceedings in the middle of the court, Grangetown brought the scores level at 31-31.
An off-the-ball penalty from the restart allowed the visitors to retake the lead, but cheered on by an increasingly vocal crowd, the home side levelled again, before a misplaced pass again handed Premier Romans possession. As the quarter drew to a close, the Romans were on the wrong end of a couple of harsh calls from the umpires, but Grangetown were unable to capitalise, and the visitors showed admirable composure to soak up so much pressure and ease back into a three-goal lead at the three-quarter stage.
Gel Williams made five changes for the final fifteen minutes; with Lesley Mouat being withdrawn after a strong performance at Wing Defence, and Katie Walton taking over at Goal Keeper. The Bristol side soon extended their advantage by a further two goals and, at that point, chances of a home win looked very unlikely indeed. However a long speculative pass from Marie Ewing was brilliantly claimed and converted by Jan Hynes. The Dublin-based shooter then scored the next three goals to tie the game at 42-42.
A controversial moment followed as the two officials spotted an infringement but gave opposite decisions. Possession was awarded to Premier Romans, but the resulting goal was quickly cancelled out; Grangetown then regained the ball and had a throw in from the Romans’ back line when an injury time out was called.
After the enforced break, and with the game almost over, Grangetown had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead for what would actually have been the first time in the match, but they were unable to create a clear opening from the restart, possession was lost, and the visitors took full advantage by moving down the court and scoring what turned out to be the decisive goal.
There were times during the match when Grangetown’s play was almost irresistible, and the players will surely reflect on this as a game they should have won. For their part, Premier Romans’ Wing Attack Becky Green was at the heart of much of the visitors’ best work; and shooter Charlie Mead was outstanding and certainly would not have deserved to be on a losing side.
Grangetown are back in action at Middlesbrough Sports Village next Sunday, when they face the unbeaten league leaders Tameside. It will be another difficult game for Gel Williams’ squad, but if they can build on the positive aspects of their performance against the Romans and eliminate some of the errors that cost so much possession, they can certainly go into the game with genuine confidence.
Player of the Match: Faye Summerhill