Grangetown Netball Club played host to Tameside in a fourth versus fifth clash in Prem 1 on Sunday.
Grangetown held a slender two-point advantage over their rivals going into a match that offered the home side the opportunity to record an impressive “double” following their 50-44 success in the reverse fixture in Manchester last October.
For their part, having finished third and fourth in the past two Prem 1 seasons, Tameside were looking to avenge that defeat, and consolidate their position as one of the strongest clubs in the country.
Grangetown were boosted by the return of Brie Grierson, as well as the availability of Tuaine Keenan, whose Super League side Loughborough Lightning had defeated Strathclyde Sirens the previous day.
Head coach Gel Williams was also able to hand a debut to Sheffield-based Ireland attacker Fran Duffy, who was linking up with her international team mate Katie Walton.
The game got underway with Dom Ford-Gordon claiming an interception to halt Grangetown’s first attack. Claudia Heath was able to reclaim possession for the home side, and Alice Currie opened the scoring.
The Tameside players applied huge pressure in the opening minutes and twice forced turnovers to score four unanswered goals and take a 3-5 lead. The pick of the goals saw Kelsie Taylor’s long pass find Beccy Hoult, whose quick feed handed Ally Thomas a straightforward opportunity, which was confidently converted.
The teams then traded goals as well as a series of errors, and it took a lovely piece of interplay between Abbie and Alice to hand the former the chance to bring the scores level.
Twice Elzabeth Cardwell got a hand to the ball to knock it out of play, but from the second restart, Abbie netted from distance to give Grangetown the lead. Alice cancelled out a goal from Ally, before a sweeping move across court and back resulted in Ally bringing parity to proceedings once again.
Brie Grierson’s lovely flighted pass set up Alice for the next goal, but the quarter’s decisive moment came with a brilliant piece of intuitive skill from Tuaine who intercepted a short pass from a feigned shot to secure possession. Alice scored from distance to open up a two-goal lead – an advantage that the home side would not relinquish.
Grangetown piled on the defensive pressure to force two more errors, Alice and Abbie finishing off the respective moves and Grangetown led 13-9 at the end of the quarter.
It had been an entertaining, but quite tense opening period between two very good sides. Tameside made the better start, but with Grangetown upping their defensive intensity and applying pressure throughout the court, they probably deserved the early advantage.
Early in the second period, Beccy set up a chance with an excellent feed, but the shot was missed and quick precise passing from Tuaine, Claudia and Ria Small took play down court, and Abbie scored an important goal against the Tameside centre pass following a penalty awarded inside the circle.
Nice movement and interplay between Abbie and Alice was replicated by Beccy and Brogan Slicker for the visitors. In the space of a couple of minutes, Tuaine and Vicky Rees both turned over possession, and with Claudia producing yet another tremendous performance at wing defence, the Tameside attack was briefly blunted.
From 16-11 Grangetown quickly took their lead into double figures with good feeds and clinical finishing at one end complementing the outstanding defending at the other.
Tameside eventually got back on the scoresheet, after Brogan brilliantly kept the ball in play after an initial shot had bounced off the ring of the net.
The visitors scored again after what looked a clear foul on Brie was called the other way, and assured finishes from both Tameside shooters reduced the deficit to seven – the last of those goals coming from a lovely long pass from Kelsie; Brogan making no mistake from the subsequent feed.
However, an overthrown pass was gratefully collected by Tuaine; possession was squandered but then superbly reclaimed by Brie who got a hand to a mid-court pass and deflected the ball straight to Claudia.
Alice duly converted, but after Beccy and Alice combined nicely to cancel out the goal, Grangetown had the benefit of a fortunate call from the umpire who blew for an off-the-ball foul against Tameside just as a wayward pass was about to hand possession back to the visitors.
Grangetown didn’t take advantage though, both shooters choosing to pass when seemingly well-placed to take a shot, and they were made to pay as Tameside turned over the ball, and Brogan netted from Beccy’s feed.
Ria’s bullet pass was collected and converted by Abbie, but Brogan scored from long-range to made the score 29-22 as the half-time hooter sounded. The seven-goal advantage meant that Grangetown remained in the ascendency, but Tameside had shown plenty of quality in the opening half an hour, and the result still felt in the balance.
Katie Walton came on at goal keeper for the third period, and her first touch was to pluck a pass out of the air to claim a turnover. Tuaine made an interception from Tameside’s next attack, with Abbie scoring from the subsequent passage of play, but nice vision from the increasingly influential Beccy allowed Ally to convert from close-range.
Grangetown wasted possession after Katie had claimed a rebound, but the whole team was maintaining their defensive intensity, the result being a three-second call against the visitors. The ball went out of play from the penalty, but Abbie was first to react and a quick exchange with Ria set up another goal.
Brie’s long pass then split the defence for Alice to score the first of two quick goals. Katie then forced an error and made another interception, but on both occasions, errors cost Grangetown the chance to further extend their lead.
Aurnia Barlow, who had come on at goal shooter for Tameside, scored well under pressure; Beccy’s cleverly-delayed feed handed Tameside another opportunity and three more quick goals brought the difference back to seven.
In fact, Tameside missed a golden opportunity to further reduce the arrears, but Tuaine claimed an all-important rebound to hand the initiative back to the home side. From their next possession, Tameside broke quickly out of defence, but the final pass was anticipated by Tuaine who completed an interception that was far more difficult than the Loughborough defender made it look.
After Grangetown scored three unanswered goals, Claudia was penalised despite taking what looked like a brilliant mid-air catch, but Katie’s equally superb tip on the resulting shot denied Tameside a goal right on the hooter, and with one period remaining, the home side led by ten - 42-32.
Grangetown shuffled their pack for the final quarter, with Vicky returning at centre in place of Ria, Jenny Mrozik coming on at goal defence, Tuaine moving to goal keeper and Katie returning to the bench after a quite sublime cameo.
With Brie injecting real pace into the Grangetown attack, the home side gradually drew further ahead. Jenny and Vicky both made a positive impact in the closing minutes and with Grangetown having passed the 50 mark, Fran Duffy was introduced at goal attack.
Fran duly opened her account at the first time of asking, but perhaps fittingly, the possession that led to the goal was secured by Claudia and Tuaine, both of whom had been excellent throughout the whole game.
The game ended in a 55-40 victory for Grangetown. The margin of victory was perhaps greater than had seemed likely during what had been a closely-contested first half, but hard as Tameside fought, and as well as they played for long periods of the game, they couldn’t match the pace and intensity of a really cohesive Grangetown squad.
Ria and Vicky have led by example all season, the attacking pairing of Abbie and Alice is getting stronger with every game, and Brie, as always, made a massive contribution;; but this win was built around the defence, with all the combinations providing a stern test for a quick and mobile Tameside attack, expertly marshalled by Beccy Hoult.
Tuaine Keenan was rightly named Player of the Match, and the result strengthens Grangetown’s fourth- position with just five games remaining in what is rapidly becoming a quite remarkable season.