Round 7 of the Mizuno Netball Premier League Division 2 saw Buckinghamshire side Clan make the journey north to face Grangetown in what looked an intriguing clash. Both sides had identical records with four wins and two defeats from their opening six fixtures, but Clan were one position above their opponents in the table courtesy of a losing bonus point earned earlier in the season.
Grangetown were looking to record a third successive win, having followed up victory over The Downs with a great result away to Ryland. Clan’s recent record was arguably even more impressive, as they had won their previous four matches, including a notable win at Hucclecote in round 4.
The visitors included former Surrey Storm Super League player Katt Ainsworth within their squad, and Grangetown were boosted by the addition of Ashleigh Neal, an Australian shooter who has also had Super League experience with Surrey Storm and Hertfordshire Mavericks.
Katie Walton GK Sophie Short
Jenny Mrozik GD Jade Forbes-Wattley
Vicky Rees WD Ella Patrick
Hannah Raine C Natalie Brookes
Ria Small WA Katt Ainsworth
Harriet Baxter GA Suzie Liversedge
Abbie LeBrocq GS Chrissy Munro
The opening four goals were shared, before Grangetown gained the early initiative after a penalty was awarded against the Clan defence, although Sophie Short looked to have completed a fair interception. The shot was converted and the lead was doubled when Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik played the ball out of defence despite strong Clan pressure. Ria Small looped a pass to Abbie LeBrocq and the shooter, who was celebrating her birthday, made no mistake.
Natalie Brookes fired a neat pass through the home defence for Chrissy Munro to score, and seconds later, the visitors levelled the scores. Abbie found space from the centre pass to score with a free shot from under the net, and Grangetown then forced a turnover which Harriet Baxter converted and when Abbie netted at the second attempt, Grangetown led 7-4.
Clan responded with a tremendous seven-goal burst, which began with a lovely long shot from Suzie Liversedge. Chrissy Munro scored twice as Clan drew level, before Grangetown twice gifted possession to the visitors, who duly took full advantage. At 7-9, Jenny managed to get a hand to a pass to allow Katie to complete the turnover. Ria fed the ball into the circle, but the ball was knocked out of play by Sophie Short. Strangely, possession was awarded to Clan, who scored the next two goals, the second coming from a great pass that found an unmarked Chrissy Munro under the net.
Grangetown finally broke the sequence, and when Katt Ainsworth was penalised for an early break from a Clan centre pass, Harriet made a great run, which attracted both defenders, and Ria’s long pass found Abbie free to score unchallenged. More good play by Vicky Rees gave Grangetown the chance to reduce the deficit to a single goal, but Clan ended the period strongly and they led 10-14 when the whistle brought an end to the opening quarter.
Gen Slater, who will be captaining Ireland in the upcoming Nations Cup in Singapore, was brought on alongside her international defensive partner Katie Walton for the second quarter. Jenny Mrozik moved to wing defence, and Vicky Rees took over at centre.
Great pressure from Vicky twice came close to earning a three-second penalty, but a time violation was called against Clan moments later, and Grangetown moved the ball down the court and Abbie’s long shot found the net off the far edge of the hoop. Clan quickly responded and when Chrissy Munro scored having claimed an excellent rebound, the gap was now five goals.
An off-the-ball penalty put Grangetown back under pressure, but Clan surrendered possession and excellent interplay between Ria, Harriet and Abbie resulted in an important goal. Clan reopened their five-goal advantage, but were unlucky to be penalised after another Grangetown mistake looked to have handed over the ball.
Grangetown tried to force the play, but Sophie Short easily picked out a long ball into the circle. Nice interplay between Natalie Brookes and Chrissy Munro followed as the High Wycombe side maintained their lead. At 14-19, Katt Ainsworth athletically kept the ball in play, but possession was surrendered, and a fine finish from Harriet reduced the gap to four.
Jade Forbes-Wattley was penalised after what looked an excellent interception. Harriet again took advantage, and following more good work by Katie Walton, two goals from Abbie meant that Clan now only led by one.
Some indecision in the Grangetown ranks led to a misplaced pass, but Clan’s attack broke down when an attacking pass was thrown wildly out of play. Clan did score next, but the goal was quickly cancelled out after Jade Forbes-Wattley and Abbie challenged for the ball, which somewhat fortuitously ricocheted off the post straight back into the safe hands of the Grangetown shooter.
There was just time for the home side to score one more goal, but it was crucial because it brought the sides level for the first time since the early stages of the opening quarter.
It had been a hugely entertaining thirty minutes of netball. Grangetown had shown their battling qualities to fight their way back into the game, whilst Clan will probably feel as though they had done just about enough to deserve an interval lead.
The visitors shuffled their pack at half-time, whilst Grangetown’s only chance was Ashleigh Neal’s introduction at goal attack.
The Australian made an immediate impact after Jenny Mrozik’s interception had turned over possession. Quick passing in and out of the circle gave Ashleigh the opportunity to register her first goal for her new club. Abbie missed her next shot, but regathered forcefully and found the net at the second attempt.
When Katie gathered a rebound at the other end, there was a sense that momentum was starting to swing towards Grangetown and with Ashleigh cleverly drawing a contact foul and converting the subsequent shot, the home side had suddenly taken a four-goal lead.
A superb interception by Jade Forbes-Wattley followed by Katt Ainsworth’s defence-splitting cross-court pass saw Clan open their account in the third quarter. Some great movement and a well-disguised pass by Ashleigh set up Abbie for an easy score, before Katt Ainsworth was penalised for what appeared another perfectly good interception; the Australian showing her understandable disappointment and being cautioned for dissent as a result.
Ashleigh Neal’s speed of movement and thought was quickly becoming a feature of the third period; she provided an injection of pace, but also a calming influence as the hosts gradually extended their lead. One perfect example saw Ashleigh feed Ria, her off-the-ball run attracted both defenders, allowing Ria to loop a pass to Abbie who was totally unmarked in front of the net.
Some fantastic work by Vicky Rees and Gen Slater managed not only to keep the ball in play, but also secure possession. The ball was moved down the court and the goal that followed made the score 33-25.
On Grangetown’s next attack, Ashleigh feigned to shoot, but instead fed Abbie who was perfectly-placed to further extend Grangetown’s advantage. Harriet netted from a rebound right on the whistle and after two tight and hard-fought quarters, Grangetown found themselves ten goals to the good with only one quarter remaining.
It had been a quite superb period from the whole Grangetown seven, but there is no doubt that the catalyst was the appearance of Ashleigh Neal. The result had been hanging very much in the balance at half-time, but just fifteen minutes later, the eventual outcome was effectively beyond doubt.
Despite a number of unforced errors and turnovers, there was no lack of endeavour from both sides in the closing quarter, but as the clock ticked towards the ten-minute mark, the size of the advantage had increased to fifteen goals, and afforded Grangetown the luxury of giving two more of their talented younger players, Tasha Grylls and Kate Hill some valuable court time.
There was still enough time for Ria Small to produce two sublime passes into the shooters, only for both chances to be squandered. To their credit Clan kept going right to the final whistle and had clawed back five goals by full time; the final score reading 47-37.
Katie Walton was named the Mizuno Player of the Match for another commanding sixty minutes at goalkeeper, but my vote would have gone to Ashleigh Neal, whose performance in that third quarter completely changed the course of the game. Overall though, this was a fine team effort from a Grangetown side that has gelled together really well and is producing a consistently high-standard of exciting netball.