On paper Saturday's clash between Team Northumbria and Lightning should have been a hard fought and close affair. Lightning struggled to a tie against Northumbria back on a cold Friday night in December but yesterday the game was as much of a contrast as the weather conditions. Northumbria will have made the long journey on a beautiful Easter Saturday in high expectation but were met by a Lightning team in dominant form.
Lightning started the game where they left off against Hurricanes the previous week. From the first whistle they played with pace and intensity blowing Northumbria away. The defence of Tomlin and Agbeze was strong once again and made life very difficult for Northumbria's new Fijian goal shooter. However it was with ball in hand that Lightning looked an awesome team. Percy, Clarke and Murphy moved the ball through the court with precision and power whilst Astle and James controlled the attacking circle. Northumbria couldn't cope and Lightning went in to a 10-1 lead at one point eventually finishing the quarter 17-6 ahead.
In the second quarter Northumbria brought on veteran Lisa Stanley at GA and Eng U21 player Vicky Burgess at C. Stanley's movement around the circle started to open up more opportunity for Northumbria and helped Fijian Mailulu find her shooting range. The Lightning defence had to work a lot harder and with Tomlin carrying an ankle injury, weren't as dominant as the first quarter. However the changes didn't break Lightning's attacking stride. Lightning's mid court were still finding their shooters with relative ease and Astle and James only missed one attempt all quarter. Lightning scored another 21 goals to finish the half 38-19 ahead
In the third quarter Rose Port took the opportunity to rest Becky James and bring on new player Heather Clarke at GA. Northumbria picked up the pace of their game and started to contest the mid-court more effectively. It took Clarke a little while to pick up the pace of the game and Lightning lost some of the fluency of the first half. Astle's shooting form also wobbled a little towards the latter end of this quarter and Lightning let Northumbria ‘win' the final five minutes to draw the quarter 11-11 (49-30).
In the final quarter Lightning made further changes with Penny replacing Tomlin, Murphy moving to C and Natasha Hampshire coming on at WA. This re-energised Lightning and they slowly began to open out their lead once again. However Northumbria now had more self-belief and came right back at Lightning. MacDonald had returned to the court at GA for Northumbria and she played a strong quarter. Combining more effectively with Mailulu she helped Northumbria keep in touch trading goal for goal with Lightning until the final two minutes. A final surge saw Lightning take the quarter 18-15 and the match 67-45.
This was Lightnings highest score of the season and it was made against a team who had play-off hopes until the end of the game. Following on from last week's performance Lightning are clearly peaking at the right end of the season. Our attacking play has moved up two notches since January and we look an impressive team coming forwards. A huge plus is that we scored 21 out of 23 from the GA position. In contrast when the dust settles from this game Lightning may want to revisit their defensive performance having let in 45 goals. The first quarter defence was outstanding, hitting the intensity level of the previous week when Brunel were kept to less than 40 goals. After that we let it slip allowing Northumbria to average 13 goals per quarter for the rest of the game.
With three games left, if Lightning want to challenge for second spot in the league they have to win away at Mavericks next week (to be shown in full on Sky Sports). If the defence fires again like it did at Brunel and offence maintain our there form then that is a real possibility, but Lightning will need to be at the top of their game.
England hold their nerve to make it through to the World Cup Final at a sold-out Lord's on Sunday.