Today’s victory against Leeds Athletic was not only Grangetown’s final home game of 2018, it also marked the midway point of the club’s inaugural season in Premier League division 1.
With local MP Anna Turley watching from the sidelines, Grangetown took the first possible opportunity to bounce back from the previous weekend’s heavy defeat against league leaders Oldham, by recording a 54-44 success over a Leeds side that has won just one fixture so far this season.
The London Pulse Super League duo of Ash Neal and Brie Grierson both returned to the Grangetown squad, and Ireland international defender Genevieve Slater was also available. The home side’s starting seven was:
GK: Jenny Mrozik
GD: Gen Slater
WD: Claudia Heath
C: Vicky Rees (c)
WA: Ria Small
GA: Ash Neal
GS: Abbie Le Brocq
Grangetown led 16-9 at the end of the first quarter. The feature of the opening fifteen minutes was the level of pressure exerted by the Grangetown defence, which forced a number of errors, but also saw a superb interception by Claudia Heath, followed by a lightning quick transition down the court, with Ria Small feeding Ash Neal for an outstanding goal.
The final goal of the period came in similar fashion, with Gen Slater claiming her second interception in as many minutes before Abbie Le Brocq converted from distance.
The advantage had been extended to 13 goals by half time, with Grangetown producing some brilliant passages of play right throughout the court. Three goals stood out. Firstly, Ria’s fine long pass beat the entire Leeds defence to find Ash totally free under the post.
Ria then lost the ball on the edge of the circle, only for it to bounce back towards her. As the defenders moved towards her, Ria was able to lean forward, grab the ball, keep her balance and flick a pass to the unmarked Abbie.
Finally, Jenny Mrozik’s leaping interception was gathered by Gen Slater, the fast, but precise passage of play through the court ended with Abbie scoring a goal that brought the Grangetown bench to their feet.
The scoreline was 32-19 in Grangetown’s favour as the hooter sounded, but it had been far from one-way traffic. Leeds defender Alice Smith was a constant thorn in the side of the Grangetown attack, and Annie James, who played at goal attack for the opening thirty minutes, was both composed and accurate under the net.
Katie Walton and Brie Grierson were introduced for the second half, but it was the visitors who made the best start, scoring six unanswered goals. Grangetown maintained the defensive pressure, but Leeds played with patience and no little assurance, and it was a relief when Ash finally got Grangetown back on the scoreboard.
Grangetown rallied and led 41-31 at three-quarter time, but Leeds had deservedly won the period, with Georgia Pexton injecting some real pace and energy at wing attack. For Grangetown, Claudia remained prominent at wing defence, but the highlight of the quarter was Katie Walton’s tremendous mid-air interception, which led to Ash converting the subsequent scoring opportunity.
Leeds kept battling throughout the final quarter, narrowing the gap to just six goals at one stage, but the result was realistically never in doubt, and the 10-goal advantage had been restored by the time the final hooter sounded; the scoreboard reading 54-44.
After the game, there was a sense that the victory wasn’t as emphatic as it could or should have been. It says a lot for how far this Grangetown squad has progressed that a Prem 1 victory can be tinged with a hint of disappointment. Credit should also be given to Leeds, who were arguably the better side in the second half.
The fact is that after nine matches in the top flight of English club netball, Grangetown now have five wins. This is an outstanding achievement for Vicky Rees and her squad, who have not only gone a long way to guaranteeing their top-flight status for next season, but have played some brilliant netball along the way, and even taken the opportunity to allow several of the club’s most talented youngsters to showcase their talents against some of the best players in the country.
For the record, my Player of the Match was Claudia Heath, who produced her best Grangetown performance against her former club, with the official award going to Gen Slater for a fine game at the heart of the home defence.