Sussex Thunder made the long journey from the south coast to Grangetown for today’s top-of-the-table clash in National Premier League 3.
The visitors had won 13 of their 15 games and had suffered just a single defeat during the campaign, whereas Grangetown’s reverse at Poole the previous weekend had left them with a record of 9 wins and 6 losses.
Grangetown were without Jaydene Robinson, Kate Hill and Hannah Raine, but Team Northumbria’s Brie Grierson was able to start, and head coach Gel Williams was able to welcome Ellen Wright for her first full match.
The game began with two penalties being called before a pass had been completed, and Thunder duly opened the scoring. Jenny Mrozik’s first interception of the afternoon regained possession after Grangetown had lost the ball from their first centre pass. Ria Small’s looped feed to Abbie Le Brocq allowed the home side to level, and set the pattern for a closely-fought and high-quality opening quarter.
Pressure from Jenny Mrozik saw Thunder overthrow a pass after the visiting goal defence had claimed another attempted lobbed pass. Abbie Le Brocq levelled proceedings before finding the net again to give Grangetown the lead for the first time. Unfortunately a three-second call gifted possession back to Sussex, who scored a superb goal after a wonderful piece of skill to tap the ball back into play was followed by an instant pass into the circle to give the shooter a straightforward chance.
A successful long shot put Thunder back in front, and Gen Slater was then penalised for footwork; the subsequent score putting the visitors two goals in front. Great work from Jenny Mrozik and Irish international defender Gen Slater turned over possession and an outstanding catch and flick by Brie Grierson to Abbie Le Brocq offered the 6’ 2” shooter an easy opportunity to cancel out the goal against the centre pass.
The sides then traded goals, with Vicky Rees recovering possession by forcing a wayward pass with some excellent defensive pressure after Grangetown had initially turned over the ball after another three second violation. At 9-9, Grangetown managed to edge in front, but the visitors’ goal defence produced a fine interception to enable Thunder to equalise; however Abbie Le Brocq rounded off an excellent fifteen minutes of netball by netting her tenth goal from ten attempts to give Grangetown the narrowest of advantages at the hooter.
Gel Williams shuffled her pack during the break with Tasha Grylls coming on at goal attack, and Ellen Wright replacing Ria Small at centre.
Grangetown gave up possession straight from the opening centre pass, but Thunder’s long range shot was off the mark, and the hosts managed to work the ball down the court with Tasha Grylls maintaiing her side’s 100% shooting accuracy. A contact penalty against the Sussex shooter handed Grangetown the chance to extend their lead; the ball was lost, but Jenny Mrozik’s excellent rebound was followed by an equally impressive long shot from Abbie Le Brocq.
Thunder then produced an excellent spell of play and scored the next five goals, but Grangetown were possibly a bit unfortunate as more excellent work from Vicky Rees went unrewarded, and a string of penalties were awarded against the home side, including a tough call on Gen Slater for footwork after what looked a brilliant interception.
Grangetown replied with a wonderful length-of-the-court move, which included a series of quick passes and a quite superb catch and feed from Ellen Wright.
A couple of Grangetown misses followed, but a crucial three-second call against Abbie Le Brocq in the act of shooting allowed Thunder to restore a three-goal lead, which was increased to four as the hooter brought the half to a close.
The third quarter provided fifteen pulsating minutes of thrilling netball. Thunder scored three goals in the opening seventy seconds and the advantage was increased to double figures as the visitors assumed total control of the match. It took another Jenny Mrozik rebound and some great work from Ria Small to break the sequence, but Sussex immediately turned over Grangetown’s subsequent centre pass and looked supremely confident as they scored to make the score 18-28.
From the sidelines, it looked as though a number of Grangetown heads momentarily dropped, but what followed was a truly remarkable fightback that rattled the league leaders, and showed the very best of this young Grangetown squad.
18-28 became 24-28 as Jenny Mrozik picked off a telegraphed cross-court pass, before seventeen-year old Tasha Grylls made a couple of telling contributions both outside and inside the circle. Thunder had a temporary reprieve when a shot from Abbie Le Brocq rolled round the rim of the net, but did not drop; and then another three-second penalty was given against the Grangetown shooter.
To her credit, the teenager kept her composure to score with her next attempt. Two further goals followed and at the end of the quarter, the Sussex lead had been reduced to a single goal.
It was a remarkable comeback and when the hosts netted twice in the early moments of the final period, Grangetown were in front for the first time since the start of the second quarter. Thunder levelled, and nudged back in front after Abbie Le Brocq had a goal chalked off by the umpire.
Grangetown kept their focus and immediately equalised from Thunder’s centre pass, before taking the lead once again. Sussex are top of the division for a reason though, and with Natalie Miller and Sophie Jackson in particular producing some superb plays under pressure, a run of five quick goals looked to have secured the win for the visitors.
Incredibly, before the next goal was scored, Grangetown were on the wrong end of two further three-second penalties, the fifth and sixth of the game; and with probably four of the decisions being at best fifty-fifty calls, this aspect of the game undoubtedly cost Grangetown a lot of crucial possession.
Sussex continued to pass and shoot really well under pressure, but Grangetown kept pressing and reduced the arrears to two. Abbie Le Brocq had a chance to narrow the gap to a single goal, but the shot was missed and Sussex showed their skill and fitness with some superb passing and movement to run down the clock and claim the win 37-39.
Sussex Thunder are the best side to have visited Grangetown this season. They played some tremendous netball, and yet Grangetown left the court feeling it was a game they could and should have won. For those watching, it was a tremendous match, played in a good spirit between two fine sides. Along with results elsewhere, Grangetown have slipped down to third position, but only two points separate the four clubs vying for play-off places behind the runaway leaders.
The Mizuno Player of the Match was Ellen Wright, but my votes went to Jenny Mrozik and to Thunder’s Sophie Jackson.