The East Midland’s premier netball team, Loughborough Lightning, has claimed the top spot in the Co-operative Netball SuperLeague, after beating former league leaders Team Northumbria this Saturday (26th) in a hard fought match.
Former England internationals, Alex Astle and Olivia Murphy, were key components in Lightning’s victory. Astle's efforts in the second half enabled the away side to focus their attacking formation whilst Murphy’s wealth of experience and skill helped counteract the strength and power of Northumbria's captain Kelly Martin.
Northumbria made a strong start with surprise inclusion Emma Lonsdale, England U19 WA, in the line up, marking Loughborough and England WD Jade Clarke. The Lightning players were on edge and despite their best efforts, each attacking move was met with a Northumbrian hot on their heels. It was clear from the start that it was going to be a physical game. The score went goal for goal in the first quarter with Northumbria edging a one goal lead 13 -12.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Loughborough stuttered through some unfortunate errors, allowing Northumbria another bite at the cherry. But the team regained their composure and Clarke’s grit and determination saw her make several tips and key interceptions, to keep Lightning in touch at 23 - 20.
Loughborough coach Rose Port switched the line up at half time replacing new edition Jo Harten with Astle and moving Murphy to WA alongside team captain, Charlotte O'Neill. A new back line was also brought on, with Verona Tomlin lining up against former England U21 Sarah Penny.
The changes sparked Lightning into a new dimension with a flourish of unanswered goals, clearly upsetting the opposition. Murphy linked the ball smoothly from the centre court into the shooting circle where Astle was holding strong against Kiwi Hutton. The defensive unit showed great flashes of the game that Lightning know they play best, leaving Northumbria struggling to find an answer. This was much to the delight of the proud and vocal away supporters who continued to lift the team. Lightning finished the quarter ahead 33 - 35.
A storming third quarter from Lightning forced Northumbria to make changes in their line up. Although Lightning didn’t start the fourth quarter at the same speed as they ended the third, Northumbria’s changes were clearly not working as well as they hoped. Northumbria captain, Martin was unable to pull her team together to claw back a result and Loughborough kept the ball with a small but very clear and safe margin, taking the victory 42-46.
Player-coach Olivia Murphy said, “It was a tough, competitive game but we should have won by more. We played especially well in the second half. It’s nice to be at the top now, but there are still five weeks to go, we need to still be at the top of the table then. I was really pleased with everyone’s performances and 11 out of out 12 players got on the court which proves how much talent we have in the squad.”
Lightning’s next home game is on Saturday 2nd February against Northern Thunder. Tickets are available in advance on the ticket hotline, Tel: 01509 226250, or through the website: www.loughboroughlightning.com or on the door (depending on availability) at Netball Centre. At £5 a ticket for adults and £3 for concessions, the game works out as a bargain priced night out for all.