The Bristol-based club travelled up to Middlesbrough having suffered defeats in their opening two Prem 1 games, and with Grangetown also looking for their first win of the season, the importance of the match was obvious. Both teams had already played a strong Academy side; Grangetown lost by 18 goals at home, and Romans were on the wrong end of a 21-goal away defeat, results which suggested a close encounter.
The starting sevens were as follows:
Katie Walton GK Chantelle Wopara
Genevieve Slater GD Hannah Payne
Vicky Rees WD Alice Galliene
Ria Small C Rebecca Reed
Brie Grierson WA Rebecca Green
Ashleigh Neal GA Morganne Dunn
Abbie LeBrocq GS Darcie Dunn
Grangetown got off to the perfect start, immediately turning over possession from the Romans’ centre pass. Abbie LeBrocq opened the scoring at the second attempt – the first of eight unanswered goals for the home side.
Katie Walton, Vicky Rees, and Ria Small all completed interceptions in those early minutes, and flowing passages of play through the court coupled with some great feeds into the circle presented the shooters with a string of opportunities.
The movement of Brie Grierson and Ash Neal caused the visiting defence plenty of problems, with the pick of those eight goals coming from a pass which Ash feinted one way and delivered the other – Abbie making no mistake from under the net.
Darcie Dunn finally got the Romans’ on the scoreboard, but with the visitors having to reshuffle their squad following the temporary loss of Chantelle Wopara, Grangetown continued to dominate and scored the next seven goals.
Gen Slater’s brilliant interception was followed by an equally impressive pass to Ash down the Grangetown left; the ball was knocked out of play, but Abbie scored from the subsequent restart.
Romans’ centre Rebecca Reed drilled a lovely pass into the circle and Darcie converted what had been the visitor’s best move of the quarter, but the next three goals showcased the range of skills that Ash possesses – a step and feed to Abbie, a long-range shot following a touch to a Romans’ pass that led to a turnover, and sublime link-up play with Brie … all within the space of a couple of minutes.
The hooter sounded with Ria feeding Abbie to make it 23-3 – an outstanding quarter from all seven Grangetown players. For their part, Romans produced some fine approach play, but suffered from a number of misplaced passes and a few too many errors.
The pattern continued into the second period, but this time Grangetown scored eleven goals without reply. Ash declined a shooting chance to feed her partner. Abbie netted and within seconds the tall shooter had further extended Grangetown’s lead.
A promising move down the Romans’ left ended when Katie showed great anticipation to claim another interception, Ash converting the subsequent scoring chance. Another composed finish from last season’s Team Northumbria skipper took Grangetown to 30, before an unlucky held ball call against the visitors handed possession back to the hosts.
It had been a breathtaking display of defensive pressure and attacking flair from Grangetown, but it was Premier Romans who scored three of the next four goals; the second coming after an outstanding catch in the corner of the court by Rebecca Reed, who followed up by creating another chance which was converted after a scrappy exchange in the Grangetown circle.
Hayley Bunt, on at wing attack for the visitors fired a fine pass for another Romans’ score, but their next attack saw Katie Walton hold onto an overthrown shot and in the blink of an eye the ball was down the other end of the court and Abbie had scored once again.
At half-time, Grangetown held a 42-8 lead. As a contest the game was over, but despite making a couple of changes, it was important for the home side to maintain the same level of focus for the final two quarters.
Jenny Mrozik and Hannah Raine came on for Grangetown at goal defence and centre respectively – Jenny’s first contribution was an interception that resulted in Abbie further extending the lead.
Brie was penalised for contact when she looked to have completed an athletic interception, and Romans took full advantage during a spell of six shared goals. Abbie then brought up the Grangetown half century, and although the visitors were converting more opportunities, it seemed that whenever they scored, Grangetown cancelled out the goal within a matter of seconds.
The confidence that was flowing through the side was typified by Brie and Ash, whose understanding, movement and skill were wonderful to watch. More intricate interplay led to another goal for Abbie. Vicky got a touch to the restart, with Grangetown quickly turning over possession for Ash to float another shot straight through the hoop.
Jenny needed all her height to pluck a Romans’ pass out of the air, but equally good work from Chantelle regained possession and Darcie’s goal brought the third quarter to a close – Grangetown now leading 61-17.
One of the five changes made by Grangetown saw Catherine Hewitt given an opportunity to get fifteen valuable minutes of court time. The final quarter was a much closer affair, with only two goals separating the sides. That may have been due in part to Grangetown losing a bit of intensity, but it also says a lot for the will and determination of the Romans’ players to keep battling despite being on the wrong end of such a heavy defeat.
The final score was 74-28, a memorable performance and a fantastic way for Grangetown to record their first ever victory at this level. Shortly after the end of the game, Gen Slater, one half of Grangetown and Ireland’s defensive combination had this to say.
“I think we played very well today, but there are still some areas we definitely need to work on. I do think we’re starting to produce more good plays with fewer bad ones, which is really positive, but we got a little bit complacent – we were up by quite a lot – so we tried a few different things and forced it a little bit more than we normally would.
“I thought we were good for maybe twelve minutes in each quarter, but that still leaves three minutes where we need to pick things up. We stopped running towards the ball, got a bit lazy; and when you are playing in a tougher competition that’s when you’re going to get intercepted…
“There were some amazing passages of play though. I just love being able to watch our attack – Brie and Ash just work so well together - and obviously Abbie and Ria too."
And to concede just eight goals in half an hour?
“It’s pretty good isn’t it? Some of us defenders are getting quite old too! I thought our goal defence was amazing though – did you see her for three quarters? Unreal...!!”
From the Romans camp, former England international and multiple Super League winner Clare Elsley was philosophical, but equally positive about the future.
“We were hoping to come here and take the win and the points, so obviously it’s huge for us to have lost by that amount. We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but it’s still only round three, so the season is far from over. We’ll learn from today. I’m sure you’ll encounter a different team in the return fixture, and it should be a much better game.
“We’ve got girls involved with the Welsh squad, our Super League players were at Fast 5s yesterday; and with the lack of players travelling up, we hadn’t really played in this combination before. We lost a player to injury and then we were down to seven, which left us with little in the way of options.
“That said, it’s the same for every team, there are no excuses, and Grangetown were simply better on the day.”
Official Player of the Match
My Players of the Match
Ash Neal (Grangetown) and Rebecca Reed (Romans)