The sides had last met in 2017/18 when Hucclecote emerged victorious in the corresponding Prem 2 encounter, but it was Grangetown that ended the season as champions. Despite being arguably the best side in the division, Hucclecote missed out on promotion, a situation that was remedied in emphatic style in 2018/19 as the Gloucestershire side dominated the division and secured promotion and the championship with games to spare.
They had carried that form into the new season, with a notable opening-day win away to New Cambell and a narrow defeat against the all-conquering Oldham squad.
This fixture represented a new challenge for Hucclecote as they were without Paige Reed and Ella Powell-Davies, both of whom had been in action in the Fast 5 tournament the previous day. Also missing was Sam Cook, not only one of the finest defenders in the country but, as a member of the Severn Stars squad, one of the outstanding players in last season’s Super League.
The Fast 5 tournament also meant that Tuaine Keenan was unavailable for Grangetown, but Manchester Thunder’s Ash Neal was able to take her place in the starting seven. The Grangetown bench was strengthened by the return of Niamh McCall, the Scottish international having been named player of the tournament in the recent Netball Europe under 21 championships.
Vicky Rees forced an error, Genevieve Slater collected the ball, but possession was turned over down the court. Katie Knox interrupted the visitors’ attack and as the ball was heading out of play, the Ireland goal keeper did superbly well to flick the ball back into the arms of Genevieve, her international defensive partner. Ash Neal converted the subsequent opportunity.
Brie Grierson’s lob to Ash consolidated the goal against the centre pass before excellent pressure from the home defence forced a number of long lateral passes and an eventual error. Abbie netted twice, Ash converted Ria Small’s cross-court pass, and the next goal extended the lead to 7-1.
Sarah Adams and Harriet Sanderson combined to set up Rosie Allison, and an attacking penalty against Grangetown enabled the visitors to further reduce the deficit. However, pressure from Brie forced a three-second violation and Ash took the lead back to six.
Rosie did well to gather and convert a rebound, but Hucclecote were forced into an early change with Harriet Sanderson leaving the court, Shaunagh Craig moving from goal attack to goal defence and Jane Taylor coming on to partner Rosie.
Ash’s low bounce pass to Ria saw the centre loop the ball over the defence to set up Abbie for the score; and neat interplay between Bria and Ria allowed Ash to find the net. Hucclecote replied when Rosie did well to collect Jane’s bullet pass and the shooter netted again after three quick turnovers. Shona O’Dwyer fed Rosie to narrow the gap to three but Ash extended the lead after her attempted bounce pass one-two rebounded off Sarah Adams right back into the grateful arms of the Australian.
Jane scored from distance, but Abbie scored the final goal of an entertaining quarter when Ash collected the rebound from her own long—range shot and quickly fed her partner under the net.
Jane and Rosie combined well to take advantage of a lucky rebound, but there was nothing fortunate about Hucclecote’s next goal, Jane calmly scoring from distance after Shaunagh’s tremendous interception.
Katie Knox was penalised twice when she looked to have secured possession from two missed shots. Rosie netted from the penalty and only two goals separated the sides.
Clare Jones produced a tremendous piece of skill to get a hand to a Grangetown pass and flick the ball into play; unfortunately for the visitors, the ball flew straight to Brie who was bundled over, and Ash scored from the resulting penalty.
Grangetown benefited from more good fortune when a misplaced pass deflected off Clare straight into Ash’s safe hands, but Clare was soon back in the action, collecting a bouncing ball at pace to claim possession as the Grangetown players waited in vain for the umpire’s whistle. Her efforts were rewarded when Jane scored to again narrow the gap to just two goals.
The next four goals were shared with Rosie converting after a ricochet off a defender’s face had fallen perfectly for the shooter. Rosie then took advantage of another turnover, but good work from the Grangetown defence resulted in a replayed ball call. Abbie managed to tap a missed shot back into play; Ash grabbed the ball, and flicked it back to her partner for the score.
The goals were coming thick and fast Shona’s neat underarm feed set up Jane to score; and Jane then gave a lovely no-look pass, which Rosie converted. There were then misses at both ends before Hucclecote brought the scores level.
However, there was just time for Ash to score the two quick goals that were the difference between the sides as the half-time hooter sounded.
Some of Grangetown’s play had been of the highest quality, but Hucclecote never stopped working to force errors and turnovers and with both shooters being both consistent and confident, the result was very much in the balance.
Grangetown made a change during the interval, with Niamh McCall being introduced at goal attack, and Ash moving to goal shooter to replace Abbie.
Niamh was straight into the action with two goals, the second a high looping effort to round off a flowing move involving Ash and Ria.
The partnership between Ash and Niamh seemed to gel quickly and the Scottish international netted again with a beautifully-judged long-range effort.
Hucclecote replied after Shona’s clever movement round the back of the post gave her the chance to feed Jane, whose shot bobbled, but counted. Ash restored Grangetown’s six-goal lead, but the visitors replied and Chloe Cubello then made a crucial interception. Sarah picked out an unmarked Rosie to score, before Jane netted from distance and suddenly only three goals separated the sides.
Just as quickly as momentum seemed to be shifting towards the visitors, it was Grangetown who suddenly took control of the game as they extended their lead to eight. Niamh netted at the second attempt after defensive pressure had forced a held ball penalty; Niamh than passed the ball inside from the left, raced across the circle to gather the feed and finished off a fine move with a great finish.
An offside call against the Hucclecote defence handed possession back to Grangetown. Ash scored and Niamh then netted twice, the second from Brie’s excellent feed.
The home defence piled on the pressure, but Hucclecote remained calm and eventually created a chance for Jane, which she converted with a minimum of fuss.
Vicky got a hand to a low pass; the ball being collected by Katie. A quick transition saw a lovely ball from Niamh find Ash unmarked under the net; the two attackers exchanging a “low-five” after the goal was scored.
Niamh’s movement then attracted the attention of both defenders, allowing Brie to loop the ball over the top for Ash to take Grangetown’s advantage into double figures.
Again though, just when it looked like the home side were in control, so Hucclecote fought their way back into the game. The ten-goal gap became five and it was only Ash’s last-gasp goal that kept Grangetown six goals to the good as the game entered the final 15 minutes.
Niamh cleverly allowed a bouncing ball to bobble towards the posts before gathering to convert the scoring chance, but Jane replied superbly from distance despite barely setting herself for the shot.
Brie fed a quick ball, ran across court to collect the return pass, and immediately fed Niamh who was unerring from distance. Brie was again at the centre of the action as she managed to athletically keep the ball in play; Niamh dived forward to claim possession and when the ball reached the circle, the young Scot was on hand to find the net.
Katie’s fine game in defence continued as she forced another error and Ash’s next two goals gave the home side a ten-goal lead. Hucclecote replied when Sarah moved left and cleverly passed right to create a scoring opportunity, but when Shona and Jane combined nicely for Rosie to score, it looked likely to be little more than late consolation.
Nothing could have been further from the truth though, as Hucclecote increased the tempo to score five unanswered goals. Niamh’s successful conversion should have calmed any nerves, but the visitors simply refused to be denied and the gap narrowed to four, three and then two goals.
From being in total command, Grangetown were hanging on, but the hooter sounded just as Hucclecote scored the goal that brought the scores to 58-57.
It was hard to know what to make of the final quarter, and those closing minutes in particular. At times, Grangetown produced some sublime attacking netball, and some intense defence, with Katie Knox being my player of the match for a tremendous performance at goal keeper (the official award was given to Niamh McCall). However, Hucclecote’s spirit and determination were more than matched by their skill and athleticism at the games most decisive moments – goal attack Jane Taylor (below) in particular having a fine game.
For Grangetown it was another improvement on their performances so far this season. There are areas that will doubtless be reviewed and addressed, but it is hard to see Hucclecote losing many games this season, and to have played well enough to secure the five competition points makes this a result of real significance.