The Grangetown squad had produced several outstanding performances to win four of their opening seven fixtures, results which had taken the club to fourth position in the table; but Oldham represented Grangetown’s biggest challenge since gaining promotion to the top flight of English club netball.
The visiting squad was full of players with Super League experience, including Taylor Cullen, who will be linking up with Grangetown’s Ash Neal and Brie Grierson at London Pulse; and Laura Malcolm, the former England international, who has re-joined Manchester Thunder from Severn Stars, but who has also visited Grangetown on a couple of recent occasions to run coaching sessions for the club’s youngsters.
In contrast, the home side were without Ireland defender Genevieve Slater, as well as their three Super League players, Ash, Brie, and new Loughborough Lightning recruit, Tuaine Keenan.
“We have three home games in a row,” explained Head Coach Gel Williams, “but our home matches are effectively away fixtures for these three girls. Of course, they’ve been instrumental in us having such an amazing start to the season, but their Super League commitments are only going to increase, and I have to make sure that the other members of the squad have a chance to show what they can do at this level. And how often will they be able to go out on court against the best team in the country?”
Harriet Baxter and Erin Peters were brought into the Prem 1 squad for the first time, Harriet having been a regular member of the squad that gained promotion, and Erin earning her place after making her debut for Ireland in the recent friendly against Scotland A.
The starting sevens were as follows:
Katie Walton GK Kerry Almond
Jenny Mrozik GD Abby Tyrrell
Claudia Heath WD Laura Malcolm
Vicky Rees C Maria McAndrew
Ria Small WA Amelia Hall
Abbie Le Brocq GA Kathryn Turner
Alice Currie GS Amy Clinton
The opening six goals were shared, Kerry Almond claiming the first of a number of interceptions for the visitors, and Alice Currie showing commendable strength to gather and convert two rebounds.
An excellent read from Laura Malcolm saw her pick off a pass and feed Maria McAndrew, who looped the ball to Amy Clinton for an important goal against the Grangetown centre pass.
Both sides were making mistakes and there were four turnovers before the next goal was scored by Kathryn Turner. Vicky Rees sent a lovely pass into the circle, but the shot was unsuccessful; and Maria immediately set up Amy to punish the home side for the miss.
Maria and Amy then exchanged four short quick passes, before the tall left-handed shooter netted again, but at the other end Alice showed great strength under pressure to hold onto possession and score with a looping shot.
Kerry’s second interception of the quarter set up another Oldham attack. The visitors were playing with pace and width and inside the circle, both shooters looked assured. The resulting goal made it 6-11, and two passes later it was 6-12, as Oldham began to take control of the game.
Twice Ria Small found Alice to score, but Laura brilliantly palmed down Ria’s next pass to secure a turnover. Jenny Mrozik was unlucky to be penalised for an almost identical play, but Kathryn took full advantage to further extend Oldham’s lead, which was eight goals at the end of the first quarter.
Both sides made changes, with Hannah Raine being introduced for Grangetown, and Taylor Cullen coming onto court for Oldham.
An Oldham defender tapped the ball out of play under no pressure, but from the restart, the shot was missed, Oldham regathered the ball and a nice take from Amy saw the visitors score the second of what would be eight unanswered goals.
The pace of Oldham’s transitions down court was visibly increasing and, well as Grangetown were defending, the visiting attack, marshalled by Laura and Maria was irresistible at times. It took a nicely delayed pass from Abbie Le Brocq to Alice to finally get Grangetown on the scoreboard in the second quarter, but more great work from Kerry, who intercepted a sideline pass, helped to set up another opportunity.
Grangetown’s attackers were working really hard to try and create space, whereas Laura was prominent in much of Oldham’s best work; another interception followed by a nonchalant overhead pass were touches of real class.
Kerry and Taylor both got a hand to passes, but the ball twice bounced back to Grangetown. Cathy Hewitt (who had replaced Abbie) netted, but the goal was cancelled out in a matter of seconds as Laura’s pass found Amy totally free under the net.
Claudia Heath looked to have claimed a great intercept, but play was brought back for a penalty to the visitors. The hooter sounded, with the scoreboard reading 17-34 in favour of a visiting side who had combined relentless defensive pressure with fluid, exciting attacking play.
The result was already beyond doubt, but Oldham were in no mood to relax, and opened the second half with twelve successive goals. One passage of play seemed to sum up this period of the game. Jenny Mrozik did well to complete a turnover, only for the ball to be lost in mid-court. Hannah Raine reclaimed possession, but Oldham immediately intercepted, and the goal almost inevitably followed.
Kerry’s excellent game at goal keeper continued as she pressured Cathy Hewitt into passing when a shot looked possible; the intention was read, the pass intercepted, and Oldham were back on the attack.
Offensively, Ria and Alice had been Grangetown’s best combination and they brought a halt to Oldham’s run of goals. Claudia was again unfortunate when another interception was denied by the umpire’s whistle; this time for a replayed ball. However, Grangetown did score next, as Ria fed Nicole Molloy, who delayed her looped pass just long enough for the defender to commit, leaving Alice with a straightforward shot from under the net.
An overarm pass from Ria to Alice took Grangetown to 20, although by then, the visitors had already passed their half century.
At the opposite end of the court, Amy didn’t even set her next shot, just lobbed it in one-handed. Alice replied, and Nicole’s shot gave Grangetown a rare goal against the Oldham centre pass.
Despite the game being over as a contest, there was plenty of commitment from both sides. In fact, the game occasionally became quite physical; Vicky was pushed, potentially dangerously, whilst in mid-air; and moments later, Hannah was barged off the ball – both incidents going unpunished.
There was just time for Nicole to net twice before the end of the period; the first goal was nicely taken after Abby Tyrrell, who had been excellent at goal defence, moved to her right anticipating a pass across the circle. In that moment, Nicole chose to shoot and although the shot was rushed, it found the net.
Harriet Baxter was brought on for the final fifteen minutes, and her first involvement was to collect a long pass and feed the returning Abbie Le Brocq to score. Unfortunately, by that time, Oldham had already added seven more goals to their total.
The visitors took the opportunity to try a number of different combinations, all of which looked to be effective. Certainly, the changes didn’t affect the pace of the game, but to Grangetown’s credit, they stuck to their task, with the experienced mid-court duo of Ria and Vicky setting a fine example. In fact, it was Vicky who turned over possession by getting a hand to an Oldham pass; Abbie converted, and netted again with a long-range effort soon after.
Laura had returned for Oldham at wing attack, her third different position, and she got a strong hand to a pass at marker to secure the ball. Amy netted – two handed this time, after her previous one-handed effort had bounced away off the ring.
Emily Whitehead played the second half at centre for the visitors and she showed great awareness to flick the ball to Amelia Hall, who feinted to shoot before feeding Amy who netted. Emily’s next contribution was a long pass down the right, which was well-taken by Laura, who instantly passed inside to Amy, whose shooting accuracy remained of the highest standard throughout.
There was just time for Erin Peters to make her Grangetown Prem 1 debut … although she was handed the unenviable task of playing against Laura Malcolm for the game’s closing minutes.
The final score was 35-76 in favour of the league leaders. They are obviously a fine side, and even though they were rarely tested by a Grangetown squad that remains inexperienced at this level, Oldham didn’t let their standards drop, and when you have players as good as Emily Whitehead and Taylor Cullen starting on the bench, you are going to give any side the sternest of challenges.
For Grangetown, the size of the defeat might be disappointing, but it was a great opportunity for the younger players to test themselves against the best that English club netball has to offer; and the coaching team will have learned a lot from the game as well. The fact remains that the aim of this season is to retain Prem 1 status, and very few would have predicted a 50%-win ratio after the first eight games.
Grangetown’s official player of the match was Alice Currie, although my vote went to Ria Small. For Oldham, Laura Malcolm was pure class, Maria McAndrew had a brilliant first half, and both shooters were superb. However, for her reading of the game and consistent ability to turnover possession, my choice for overall player of the match would be Kerry Almond.