Turnford had travelled up from their Hertfordshire base with an identical record to Grangetown, the teams being separated only on goal average. The game also paired the two clubs who had been promoted from Prem 2 last season, and just as there was little to separate the teams on paper, so it proved out on court.
Grangetown were at full strength, with Gen Slater and Katie Walton having been on international duty for Ireland in last weekend’s friendly against Scotland A. Former Team Northumbria Super League players Ash Neal and Tuaine Keenan found themselves facing a former colleague, as Chiara Semple took her place in Turnford’s starting seven. Chiara will link up with Ash and Grangetown’s Brie Grierson for the 2019 Super League season, as all three are members of the recently-announced London Pulse squad.
Turnford were without England international George Fisher, and the injured Ellie Kelk, but they still fielded a talented squad including a number of England age group internationals and current Super League players. The starting line-ups were as follows:
Tuaine Keenan GK Sarah Davis
Genevieve Slater GD Zara Everitt
Vicky Rees WD Ellie Rattu
Ria Small C Kat Whittall
Brie Grierson WA Emily Gulvin
Ash Neal GA Chiara Semple
Abbie Le Brocq GD Nat Richardson
Grangetown edged the first quarter 14-12, although it was a tight fifteen minutes, with neither side able to gain a significant advantage. Grangetown started the better, but a 3-0 lead was quickly cancelled out by the visitors. Ash Neal then delivered a beautifully concealed pass to her shooting partner Abbie Le Brocq, who calmly found the net.
Great interplay between Brie Grierson and Abbie resulted in a clever feed to the onrushing Ash. The goal doubled the advantage, but a great read from Zara Everitt allowed Kat Whittall to collect the loose ball and with Chiara Semple looking assured in the circle, Turnford not only levelled proceedings, but took a two-goal lead of their own; the best piece of play involving Emily Gulvin, who moved right and passed left to leave Nat Richardson the easiest of chances, which was duly converted.
Ash and Brie then both showed great skill to feed Abbie for two quick goals. The first saw Ash collected the ball at pace and cleverly delay the looped pass until the defence had committed; then Brie faked a pass to Ash, which drew both Turnford defenders, leaving Abbie totally unmarked.
Nothing elaborate about the move that helped Grangetown retake the lead though, as Brie drilled a pass to her London Pulse team mate for Ash to find the net.
Tuaine Keenan’s excellent opening quarter was rounded off by a brilliant interception as a shot was being taken; but Grangetown were unable to take advantage. However, Ria Small linked up well with the attack to provide another opportunity, which Ash comfortably converted; and Abbie was on hand to finish off a brilliant passage of play to give the home side a two-goal lead on the hooter.
The second period began with yet another fine intervention from Tuaine, but again her efforts were not rewarded at the opposite end of the court. The teams traded early goals before Grangetown were fortuitously awarded an off-the-ball penalty just as they looked to have lost possession. Ash made no mistake and her next goal extended the advantage to four.
Ellie Rattu had already picked off one poor pass, then came close to intercepting a Grangetown centre pass as Turnford maintained strong defensive pressure; but a bad miss from under the post was the catalyst for a four-goal burst from Grangetown, which took the score to 25-17.
At the heart of the home defence, Tuaine and Gen Slater were working well together and claimed two crucial turnovers, but just as Grangetown looked to have gained the ascendancy, momentum suddenly swung back in favour of the visitors.
The introduction of the rather inappropriately-named Katarina Short had an immediate impact on the game, as the 6’5” shooter provided the perfect target for the Turnford attackers. The long-looped pass was very much in evidence, as Katarina’s goals began to eat into Grangetown’s lead. Great work from Ellie Rattu and Sarah Davis enabled the visitors to have enough possession to trail by just three goals at half time.
Interestingly however, despite Turnford’s late spell of dominance, Grangetown actually won the quarter by one goal. It had been an absorbing 30 minutes of high-quality netball and with the sides so evenly matched, the importance of the three-goal cushion couldn’t be underestimated.
Katie Walton replaced her Ireland team mate Gen Slater, with Tuaine moving to goal defence. There was a straight swap at goal shooter with Abbie making way from Alice Currie, for whom the game marked her home debut; and Claudia Heath came on at wing defence in place of Vicky Rees.
Whilst Grangetown’s Super League pairing of Ash and Brie often grab the headlines, the performances of Vicky and Ria in the middle of the court have been outstanding, and, after years of service to the club, both are arguably playing the best netball of their respective careers.
The break seemed to have a positive effect on Grangetown, as they scored the third quarter’s opening four goals – Katie and Alice both making an instant impact at opposite ends of the court.
However, yet another interception by Tuaine went frustratingly unrewarded as Turnford rallied with five unanswered goals of their own; but just as it looked like the margin would be down to a single goal, Turnford lost possession when the ball was deemed to have gone out of court. It looked a harsh call, but Grangetown quickly took advantage and with Alice and Ash both looking very composed in the circle, the home side quickly extended their advantage to seven.
The tactic of looping the ball into Katarina looked obvious, but when executed well, it was very hard to defend, and the visitors were finding it comparatively easy to convert from their centre passes. Likewise, Grangetown were cancelling out each Turnford goal, with Alice doing really well to flick the ball back to Ash when she was overbalancing and falling out of play.
It felt like it was a case of who would blink first and when a wayward Grangetown pass was collected by Emily Gulvin, that provided the spark for the visitors to seize the initiative, and by the end of another pulsating quarter in which 35 goals were scored, Turnford trailed by just two goals and the stage was set for an enthralling finale.
The pattern of much of the previous quarter continued as the two sides shared the first ten goals of the last quarter. Katie Walton completed an excellent turnover, which Ash converted to score against the Turnford centre pass, only for the visitors to immediately hit back from the Grangetown restart.
There were arguably two turning points: firstly, a whistle that looked likely to penalise Grangetown for a three-second violation was actually for an off-the-ball offence against the Turnford defence; and secondly, as the visitors battled to close the gap, a misplaced pass flew out of court to hand Grangetown a crucial turnover.
The home shooters took every chance that came their way, and hard as Turnford battled, Grangetown were relentless, and the final score was 62-53 in favour of last season’s Prem 2 champions.
Grangetown were superb, but if the winning margin suggests a comfortable victory, the reality is that Turnford provided a stern test, and the result was in doubt right until the final few minutes. The result was enough to lift Grangetown back into fourth position, with Viper 10 Blades loss to unbeaten Oldham (who visit Grangetown in round 8 on 2 December).
Abbie Le Brocq was the official Player of the Match, but my votes would have gone to Grangetown’s Tuaine Keenan for a fine performance at the heart of the defence, and Turnford wing attack Emily Gulvin.