Grangetown hosted The Downs in the fifth round of the Mizuno Premier League 2nd Division. With the season still in its early stages, Grangetown had won two of their opening four fixtures and, although the club lay in eighth position, only one point separated them from the top four.
The two defeats came against the sides filling the league’s top two positions in the lead-up to week 5, and with The Downs occupying third place, it could hardly have been a tougher reintroduction to the second tier for Grangetown following their promotion through the play-offs.
The Surrey side was relegated from the top flight last season, but travelled up to the north east with a record of three wins and one defeat, their latest outing being a comfortable home success over Sussex Thunder.
Three current England internationals, Ebony Beckford-Chambers, Rachel Dunn and Hannah Reid all represented The Downs on their way to international honours; and Grangetown can boast two current internationals of their own, with Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton (pictured below) both being named in the Ireland squad for the forthcoming Nations Cup in Singapore.
The starting line-ups for the game were as follows:
Grangetown The Downs
Katie Walton GK Lorraine Kowalewska
Jenny Mrozik GD Alima Priest
Gen Slater WD Fiona Bateman
Hannah Raine C Kate McGinley
Ria Small WA Mel Boodt
Harriet Baxter GA Neala Brennan
Abbie LeBrocq GS Abi Caple
The game started with Gen Slater and Hannah Raine both coming close to interceptions, before the visitors opened the scoring. A neat pass from Grangetown’s 18-year-old centre enabled Harriet Baxter to get the home side onto the scoreboard, before Harriet and Ria Small combined to give Abbie LeBrocq the chance for Grangetown to score against The Downs’ centre pass.
The Guildford-based side soon took advantage of a fumbled pass to restore parity and were slightly unfortunate when Mel Boodt was given offside after a collision with Gen Slater knocked her into the circle. The teams traded goals until a frenetic passage of play saw The Downs grab a two-goal lead. Grangetown turned over possession from their centre pass; only to be handed back the ball after a three-second violation. A speculative pass failed to find Abbie LeBrocq and Alima Priest’s long diagonal ball opened up the court and the visitors netted after a foul was called against Katie Walton.
Grangetown again conceded possession after a long pass went over the backline, only to receive the ball back after a footwork call against the visitors. Defensive pressure was forcing Grangetown into rushed passes and eventually it took some nice interplay between Harriet and Ria Small to set up Abbie for a straightforward chance.
With The Downs on the attack, Lorraine Kowalewska was penalised for obstruction at the opposite end of the court. It was a stroke of luck for the hosts, but the umpire blew for an early break from the resulting centre pass, and the visitors duly netted to maintain their two-goal margin.
It had been a closely-fought opening quarter, but The Downs had been slightly the better side and deserved their narrow advantage, however as the period neared its conclusion, Grangetown suddenly clicked into gear and scored six unanswered goals to leave the score 13-9 at quarter time.
Gen Slater fired a superb pass to Harriet, whose run attracted both visiting defenders. Harriet was able to feed Abbie LeBrocq who was totally unmarked under the net. An almost identical pass gave Abbie another free shot to level the scores, before Katie and Jenny Mrozik both claimed possession, firstly by intercepting a long pass, then regathering the ball after a shot rebounded off the ring.
Grangetown missed two shots of their own, but seconds later, Ria found Harriet free on the left of the circle, and the shot was duly converted. Three goals came in a frantic final minute; Abi netting three times, with the final goal coming literally seconds before the hooter sounded. The opening quarter had been entertaining, and Grangetown’s run of goals arguably belied how even a game it had been.
An unchanged Grangetown side then scored the first three goals of the second period, the third coming following an off-the-ball penalty against Lorraine Kowalewska, whose tussle with Abbie LeBrocq was one of the features of the entire sixty minutes.
Ria Small nearly pulled off a fantastic interception, but The Downs were denied a goal when great marking from Katie Walton drew a penalty. Unfortunately, the pass out of defence was dropped, and The Downs finally opened their account after nearly four minutes of the quarter.
The next four goals were shared, but Grangetown claimed a turnover after a long looped pass had been superbly caught by Katie Walton; it should have been an even contest for the ball, but as soon as the pass was in flight, there was only ever going to be one outcome. The ball travelled quickly down the court; Abbie netted, but the goal was ruled out. Abi Caple then scored from long range, before converting an easier chance from Neala Brennan’s cleverly disguised pass.
Abbie scored the game’s next three goals, but The Downs still looked dangerous, with centre Kate McGinley really coming to the fore with her ability to find space out wide and feed excellent passes into the attackers.
Lorraine Kowalewska did well to turn over possession and the subsequent goal reduced the margin to five, but she was immediately cautioned for what was seen as deliberate obstruction on Abbie LeBrocq, who had no trouble converting the shooting opportunity.
Yet again, as the quarter drew to a close, Grangetown’s outstanding fitness levels were very much in evidence. Another flurry of goals saw Grangetown go into the half-time interval 27-18 in front; it was a sizeable advantage, but one that the home side had worked incredibly hard to earn.
Hannah Raine was withdrawn during the interval, after putting in a really good shift at centre. Ria Small replaced Hannah, with Kate Hill being introduced at wing attack, and club captain Vicky Rees coming on at wing defence.
Although Grangetown scored first in the third period, following really quick interplay between Ria and Harriet Baxter, the quarter was essentially dominated by The Downs. Grangetown lacked the cohesion of the preceding half-hour, conceded far too many penalties, and the visitors were more than capable of converting the chances that came their way.
Vicky Rees and Ria Small combined to leave Abbie with an easy shot from right under the net to make the score 30-21, but the next six goals were all scored by The Downs, whose fightback was both quick and impressive. Grangetown eventually replied through the trusted Small-LeBrocq combination, but it was Harriet Baxter who really caught the eye towards the end of the quarter.
Her movement and link-up play were superb; she looked like she’d played alongside her team mates for years rather than just a handful of games; and as well as a number of excellent feeds into her shooting partner, Harriet also found the net on a number of occasions.
At the end of what had been a difficult quarter, Grangetown had managed to hold onto a five-goal lead. It was clear that there would be changes to the on-court personnel; and Gen Slater duly returned to the fray, with Vicky Rees and Ria Small combining in mid-court.
There are some talented youngsters in the Grangetown squad, but there is also a great deal of experience; and the final fifteen minutes was all about composure. The hard work had been done in the first half; a more than useful advantage had been maintained despite a strong third period from the visitors; now it was a question of remaining strong and focussed.
The first goal was created by Hannah Baxter, who took a ball from Vicky Rees and drilled a pass to Abbie at a pace she didn’t look like she was expecting. However, Abbie managed to keep her poise and once again found the net.
Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik both played the full sixty minutes and had excellent games. They secured numerous interceptions and rebounds, and restricted the visiting attack to just five goals in the fourth period. In contrast, Grangetown recovered the fluidity they had temporarily lost in the previous quarter, and if there had been any nervousness, it certainly didn’t show as both Abbie and Harriet scored from close-range and longer distance in the closing moments of the match.
Kate McGinley, who was The Downs’ best player on the day produced one of the best passes of the afternoon to take both Grangetown defenders out of the game and set up a straightforward shooting opportunity, but Grangetown were relentless and the goal difference had reached double figures when the final hooter brought proceedings to an end.
The final score was 48-37. It was a tremendous performance from Grangetown, who showed real maturity to see out the game after The Downs had rallied so strongly. The visitors will be disappointed by the size of the defeat; and they showed enough to suggest they will be one of the division’s stronger teams. Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik’s efforts in defence must be highlighted, but the player of the match was Harriet Baxter (below), who had an outstanding afternoon at goal attack.