It wasn't pretty but the Queensland Firebirds' winning habit remained intact following a hard-fought 52-42 win over the Melbourne Vixens in Melbourne tonight.
The Firebirds' eighth consecutive win was, however, somewhat overshadowed by the loss of integral Vixens attacker Sharelle McMahon, just before halftime to an Achilles injury.
While the Vixens soldiered bravely on, the loss of McMahon took some of the sting out of the eagerly anticipated clash, the home team losing their momentum on attack, particularly in the circle.
Firebirds produced a terrific team effort, showing quality across all areas of the court as they marched relentlessly on.
The only minor surprise in either line-up was Clare McMeniman getting her first start of the season, at goal defence for Firebirds. Both goal shoots, Kate Beveridge (Vixens) and Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) were key targets from the outset and both delivered.
Beveridge had her radar on target from the beginning with 11 goals from 13 attempts in the first quarter while the lofty Aiken was well fed by Natalie Medhurst and Lauren Nourse, and usually finding herself within close range of the hoop.
While the Vixens held a two-goal buffer for much of the first quarter, the opening stanza was a tight contest. The open and free-flowing nature of the game ensured plenty of end-to-end action. Firebirds overcame the early deficit, the high-scoring opening revealing little between either side as the pair went to the first break locked at 16-all.
The defensive pressure intensified on the resumption, turnovers being highlighted as scoring accuracy fell away in the pressure-cooker situation. Firebirds defenders Laura Geitz and McMeniman put the squeeze on McMahon and Beveridge, who faltered under the hoop. The extra possession helped the visitors gain a three-goal buffer as Aiken continued to reign supreme in the Firebirds circle.
Disaster struck for the Vixens with three minutes of the half remaining when the inspiring McMahon slumped to the court with a lower leg injury. Needing to be assisted from the court, McMahon's departure left the large home crowd in a state of shock.
With Tegan Caldwell also on the injured list, Kathleen Knott took over the goal shooter's bib while Beveridge went out to goal attack as Firebirds held their margin to go into halftime with a 27-24 lead.
There were changes to both teams for the second half as the Vixens fought valiantly to fill the gap left by McMahon. The visitors barely missed a beat, running like a well-oiled machine as they effortlessly stretched out to a seven-goal lead.
But there was plenty of fight in the Vixens, who refused to go away. Centre Madison Browne was at the heart of every Vixens raid, punching through on attack and tenacious on attack. Co-captain Bianca Chatfield, back at goalkeeper for the second half, helped put some hesitancy into the Firebirds shooters in tandem with Julie Corletto as the home team closed the gap. However, the visitors retained their composure to take a 39-35 lead into the last break.
It was an uphill battle for the home team in the run home but they made sure the Firebirds worked for their win. To have any chance, the Vixens had to stem the supply of ball to Aiken which proved too big a hurdle as Medhurst and Nourse took control of the Firebirds attacking line to dictate the final outcome.