Grangetown’s latest fixture in Mizuno Premier League 2 was about as far removed from a local derby as it is possible to get as their opponents, Sussex Thunder, made the 630-mile round trip from their Brighton base to face a Grangetown squad that has been in excellent form.
After ten fixtures, Grangetown were placed third in a very competitive division, having won seven games. In contrast, Sussex, who were promoted as Division 3 champions last season, occupied ninth position, with their only two victories coming against Ryland, and bottom-placed Chester, the only team yet to record a win so far this season.
When the sides met back in October, Grangetown returned from Sussex with a hard-fought and narrow 45-41 success, so despite being separated by seven places and 21 points in the table, the visitors were still expected to pose a serious challenge.
Grangetown were without Jenny Mrozik, but their Ireland defenders Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton were joined by a third current international as Scotland’s Hayley Mulheron made her first appearance for the club since the 2015/16 season, having recently been part of the Scottish Thistles squad that secured their place in the 2019 World Cup through the regional qualifiers.
Katie Walton GK Tish Biddolph
Hayley Mulheron GD Rebecca Miller
Gen Slater WD Ellen Franks
Vicky Rees C Beth Franks
Ria Small WA Chloe Spong
Ash Neal GA Sophie Jackson
Abbie LeBrocq GS Tess Waterfall
It was the visitors who made the brighter start, scoring from their opening possession. Katie Walton made an early interception, only for Beth Franks to win back the ball and set up an easy chance for Tess Waterfall.
A contact penalty on the tall Sussex shooter then enabled Vicky Rees and Ash Neal to exchange passes for the Team Northumbria goal attack to halve the arrears, and the pair then combined again to level the scores.
The next four goals were shared, with both sides making a number of errors, before Thunder moved into a three-goal lead. Firstly, Tess cleverly flicked a shot rebound to her attacking partner Sophie Jackson. Tess then plucked a high pass out of the air to score, before some great work from Chloe Spong reclaimed possession and created another chance that was successfully converted.
Tish Biddolph was unfortunate not to complete an interception, and Ash scored from the resulting restart. At the opposite end of the court, Tess used all of her 6’ 4” height and skill to gather a high ball and draw a contact penalty to maintain the three-goal advantage.
Grangetown replied with two quick goals, but then conceded an attacking penalty and despite intense pressure from both Grangetown defenders, Sophie was able to find the net. A lightning quick interception from Katie turned over possession and lovely interplay from Vicky and Ria Small set up Abbie le Brocq. Moments later Abbie scored with a perfectly flighted long shot, and once again the scores were tied.
Hayley Mulheron claimed a rebound, followed by an excellent interception and the home side edged in front for the first time, although Thunder were rather unlucky when the umpire blew her whistle seemingly for a foul on a Sussex player, only for Grangetown to be given possession from the restart after the ball bounced out of play.
Abbie found the net to make it 12-10; both sides then scored a goal apiece, but the advantage at quarter time was just one goal as Tess scored with the last play of the period.
Grangetown made a couple of changes during the interval, with Kate Hill coming on at centre, and Vicky replacing Gen Slater at wing defence.
Sophie Jackson brought parity to proceedings in the opening moments of the second period, however the next three goals all came from Grangetown. Hayley and Kate combined for Abbie to score, then Hayley’s superb catch set up some neat interplay between Ria and Ash Neal – Abbie once again finishing the move. The home side then took advantage of a Sussex miss to work the ball down court and Abbie scored at the second attempt.
Sophie’s next goal was cancelled out by a long effort from Ash, but Sophie duly responded with a successful shot from even longer-range. Abbie showed great strength under pressure from Rebecca Miller and, although Thunder replied, Ash ignored a shooting opportunity and flicked a clever pass to her left for her better-placed partner Abbie to find the net.
Sophie and Beth Franks then produced some excellent play to open up the Grangetown defence for Tess to bring the visitors back to within two goals; but that would be the closest Thunder came to catching their hosts.
Abbie scored twice, the second goal coming after a replayed ball penalty against the visitors. Importantly, that goal came against the Sussex centre pass, and when Ash floated the ball into the net after impressive interplay with Kate Hill, the advantage was now five.
Ash drilled a pass to Abbie, which was brilliantly taken, and the subsequent goal was the fourth in another unanswered spell. Grangetown were in sublime form; their attacking play was fluent and Sussex were being pressured right across the court whenever they had possession.
Another well-taken shot from Sophie Jackson made the score 28-20, but the next seven goals all went the way of the home side. The second of those goals saw Ria and Ash combine superbly to feed Abbie; Katie then picked off a Sussex pass, and Ria fired a ball right through the defence to find Abbie completely unmarked under the net.
A footwork call handed possession back to Grangetown, and even though some of the shooting was falling just short, all the rebounds were going the way of the home side, and Grangetown were in total command. The half-time hooter sounded, with Grangetown 14 goals in front, after having won the quarter 22-9.
Sussex introduced Kim Cook at wing defence and also made a change at centre, but unsurprisingly, Grangetown stuck with the same seven who had produced such an excellent period of netball.
To their credit, Sussex did make early inroads into the Grangetown lead, reducing the gap to eleven goals at one stage. One of the main features of the visitor’s play was the shooting of Sophie Jackson, who seemed to be able to find the net at will from almost any distance. However, the highlight of the opening few minutes of the third period came from Grangetown’s Kate Hill, who fired a delightful pass inside the Thunder defence for the onrushing Ash Neal, who caught the ball and calmly found the net.
Hayley, Ria and Vicky all played a part in turning over possession in mid-court, however the resulting shot from Abbie bounced off the ring of the net and was collected by the Thunder defence. A rare miss from Sophie turned into a perfect pass for Tess to score, but after Abbie had cancelled out the goal, Hayley got a decisive hand to the Sussex centre pass and her efforts were rewarded when Abbie converted the ensuing shot.
Another defence-splitting pass, this time from Ria Small, enabled Ash Neal to maintain Grangetown’s sizeable lead, and scorer turned provider as Ash found Abbie totally unmarked as the home side’s attacking movement attracted the attention of both defenders.
During a brief stoppage, Tess Waterfall was replaced by Lauren Pedelty, whilst Grangetown took the opportunity to bring on Tasha Grylls at wing attack. Lauren’s first involvement was a successful shot, but Thunder’s next attack saw Hayley block Sophie’s attempt, with Katie Walton grabbing the rebound. The ball found its way to Abbie who scored from long range.
Kim Cook did well to nudge the ball out of play, as Grangetown mounted another attack, but from the restart Abbie once again netted from distance. Thunder’s next goal came from Lauren, another from long-range, but Abbie repaid the compliment with the last short of the quarter; a fine goal that saw Grangetown reach their half century.
50-34 to the good, Grangetown shuffled their pack for the final period; Gen Slater returning to the court in place of Hayley Mulheron, Harriet Baxter coming on at goal shooter and Ria replacing Kate Hill, who had played particularly well at centre.
Beth Franks went back to centre for the visitors and immediately produced an excellent interception. Sussex were unable to make the most of the possession though, and Grangetown rattled off five quick goals to give them a lead of twenty – a figure that no one would have imagined possible after such a hard-fought opening quarter.
Rebecca Miller’s excellent interception came to nothing as possession was lost inside the Sussex half, and Harriet Baxter opened her account at the first attempt after collecting a rebound. Tasha Grylls then produced a lovely pass to find Harriet free under the net, but in a game which had seen some excellent shooting from distance, Lauren Pedelty was desperately unlucky to see a shot from right on the edge of the circle ruled out for an infringement.
By this stage the result was not in doubt, but Grangetown refused to relax their defensive pressure and some great work from forced Sussex into a long shot that was safely collected by Gen Slater. The ball went straight down the other end and Tasha fed Ash for another score.
The home side kept up the momentum right through until the end of the game and at full time, the score was 67-40 in Grangetown’s favour. There were excellent performances all over the court, with Sussex picking Ash Neal as their player of the match, and Vicky Rees picking up the award from the competition sponsors Mizuno. For good measure, I thought Ria Small was the best player on court, but in a fine team performance, Kate Hill also deserves a mention for her display at centre in the middle quarters of the game.
For their part, Sussex certainly didn’t look like a side languishing towards the bottom of the division during an opening period in which they more than matched their hosts. For me, their best player was Sophie Jackson whose link up play with Tess Waterfall during the first quarter was fantastic, as was her shooting throughout the whole game. However, as the match progressed, the strength and energy of the Grangetown defence really stifled Thunder’s attacking options in what was a fine performance and an important win for the home side.
Grangetown Netball Club’s first Premier League fixture of 2018 was a third versus first clash as Grangetown played host to current league leaders Hucclecote.
When the sides met down in Gloucestershire in the opening round of the 2017/18 season, Hucclecote ran out convincing winners; but after eight games, the teams had identical records of six victories and two defeats, with the Cheltenham-based club boasting a better ratio of goals scored against conceded.
Grangetown had been in fine form before Christmas, winning their previous four games, whilst the visitors were on a three-match winning streak, averaging almost 66 goals per game. However, with neither club having played a competitive fixture in over a month, predicting a winner was no easy task.
The hosts were boosted by the return of Ireland defenders Gen Slater and Katie Walton, both of whom had enjoyed excellent Nations Cup tournaments in Singapore during December. And with fellow defender Jenny Mrozik having been included within the Team Northumbria Super League squad, the defensive unit looked particularly strong; which it would surely need to be against such a free-scoring attack.
The second Team Northumbria player in the Grangetown squad, Ash Neal, was also available, however Hucclecote were able to draw on the services of no less than four members of the Severn Stars Super League squad: Samantha Cook, Ella Powell-Davies, Shona O’Dwyer and Rosie Allison.
The starting sevens were as follows:
Katie Walton GK Kellie Hull
Jenny Mrozik GD Sam Cook
Gen Slater WD Ella Powell-Davies
Vicky Rees C Lauren Brooks
Ria Small WA Shona O’Dwyer
Ash Neal GA Thea Thompson
Abbie LeBrocq GS Rosie Allison
The visitors made a bright start, and good interplay between the two shooters secured a goal against the Grangetown centre pass. A successful long-range shot from left-handed goal attack Thea Thompson gave Hucclecote an early advantage, but Sam Cook was then really unlucky when she put a foot out of play in attempting an interception. Ash Neal scored from the next play, and after Katie Walton claimed possession, an excellent pass from Vicky Rees allowed Abbie le Brocq to level the scores.
The next eight goals were shared between the teams; great movement and a fine feed from Ash set up Abbie, before Rosie Allison produced a clever dummy to draw away the Grangetown defence, allowing Thea to find the net with a looping shot. At 6-6, Ash’s feigned shot and blind pass found Abbie under the net, but when a speculative pass was picked off by Kellie Hull, Thea floated the ball to her attacking partner to bring the sides level once again.
Some neat interplay between Ria Small and Ash Neal saw the Australian find the net from long range. A goal against the centre pass followed; and Grangetown’s next attack saw a ball that was heading out of play bounce fortuitously back to Abbie off the post, but the chance was not converted.
Shona O’Dwyer then found Rosie with a looped pass, but after the goal, Thea Thompson was forced to leave the court, and was replaced by Yas Hodge-England. Ash netted, before a well-read interception by Sam Cook gave Hucclecote the possession from which they narrowed the gap to a single goal; and seconds later, the visitors tied the scores once again.
The final two goals of a pulsating opening quarter came from Grangetown, who led 12-10 as the hooter sounded.
Ria Small replaced club captain Vicky Rees at centre, with Tasha Grylls coming on at wing attack.
Hucclecote opened the scoring, then applied great pressure which resulted in a three-second penalty and a chance to bring parity to proceedings. Abbie then scored twice, and Grangetown’s next goal came from great work by Ria Small, who recovered the ball in the defensive third, and then supplied a bounce-pass to Ash, who duly fed Abbie for a simple finish.
Yas Hodge-England converted from long-range, before Rosie showed great strength to hold off the home defence and find the net. Katie Walton’s brilliant airborne interception claimed possession and Abbie’s long shot rattled the net ring, but counted. Abbie’s next goal left the scoreboard reading 17-15, but the next few minutes would completely change the course of the game.
Accurate shooting from Rosie and Yas was supported by some outstanding defensive work, with Sam Cook using her height and athleticism to claim two interceptions. Sarah Adams, who had come on at wing defence also cut out a Grangetown pass, and with Lauren Brooks and the livewire Shona O’Dwyer making the most of all the possession, Hucclecote scored no less than nine unanswered goals.
Ash broke the run with an assured finish, but literally seconds later, Rosie netted to preserve the seven-goal lead. The next four goals were shared, before Ash scored right on the half-time hooter and the teams left the court with Hucclecote leading 21-27 – a significant advantage given how close the opening twenty-or-so minutes had been.
It really was an impressive spell from the visitors, who took clinical advantage of every Grangetown mistake. Coach Gel Williams brought Vicky Rees back into the fray, with Kate Hill taking over at wing defence and Gen Slater replacing Jenny Mrozik. For Hucclecote, Laura Tildesley was introduced at wing defence.
The visitors missed their first shot of the third period, with Katie Walton securing the rebound. Not for the first time however, possession was surrendered and Shona O’Dwyer’s looped pass saw Rosie Allison score at the second attempt.
Ash Neal reduced the arrears before a lovely run attracted both Hucclecote defenders, freeing Abbie for Ria’s feed into the circle. A rare miss from the 6’2” shooter enabled the visitors to score next, but Abbie netted moments later, and Kate Hill’s long ball led to an easy opportunity for Ash. It was a vital score against the centre pass, which brought Grangetown to within five of their opponents, but once again, possession was carelessly squandered and Hucclecote took full advantage and quickly reeled off four more goals.
One of Grangetown’s main qualities is their fighting spirit, and they immediately replied with a four-goal burst of their own, with Vicky and Ria both making telling contributions to set up the shooters. Gen Slater’s interception was crucial to the fourth of those goals, another against the centre pass; but Sam Cook then produced another spectacular interception just as Grangetown were gathering some momentum.
The contest between Sam Cook and Ash Neal was one of the features of the game. Both Super League players were excellent throughout, two superb athletes, whose respective skills in defence and attack were to the fore throughout the game. Ash netted twice as Grangetown continued to claw their way back into the game. When Gen Slater’s pass set up her fellow Australian, the lead was down to just three goals, but the subsequent Grangetown centre pass flew disappointingly over the sideline, handing the initiative straight back to the league leaders.
Thea Thompson returned to the court to replace Yas Hodge-England, and Thea’s first involvement was to score with a perfectly-judged long-range shot.
Ash then threw a quite sublime blind pass backwards over her left shoulder, straight to Abbie. Another outstanding piece of defensive work from Sam Cook denied Grangetown the chance to narrow the gap, but Ash’s goal right on the hooter meant that Grangetown had actually won the quarter and Hucclecote would only take a four-goal advantage into the final period.
Harriet Baxter and Hannah Raine both took to the court for the last fifteen minutes. Grangetown scored the period’s opening goal, but a pass to a double-marked shooter was easily collected and Rosie Allison again showed great strength to net under pressure.
Vicky combined with Harriet for the shooter to score with her first attempt, a goal which was quickly cancelled out by yet another from Rosie. In Hucclecote’s next attack, there was a moment reminiscent of the film The Matrix as Thea leant backwards on the edge of the court, improbably managing to keep her balance and keep the ball in play.
The visiting goal keeper Kellie Hull latched on to a pass from Gen Slater, and possession was converted into a score that extended Hucclecote’s lead to seven. Still the hosts refused to back down, and as the clocked ticked into the final two minutes, a high-looping shot from Harriet actually reduced the arrears to three goals.
For a few seconds, it looked like the crowd would be treated to a dramatic conclusion, but a Grangetown error handed the ball to Hucclecote and the resulting goal effectively sealed the result.
It was perhaps fitting that one of the last bits of action in a high-quality and entertaining game was one last interception from Sam Cook. The final score was 48-54, a well-deserved victory for a fine Hucclecote side, but to their credit, Grangetown battled right to the final hooter and played some really good netball, but when they review the game, they will probably rue too much wasted possession and the concession of those nine consecutive goals in the second quarter.
Ash Neal was Grangetown’s best performer, but my player of the match has to be Sam Cook.