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 Thompso
                      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 
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.