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Netball - 28. February 2008.

Loughborough Powers Into the Play Offs

An electrifying team performance, inspired by a magnificent game from England star Jade Clarke, powered Loughborough Lightning back to the top of the Co-operative Netball Superleague with a 43-41 win over Mavericks, Grand Finallists for the past two seasons. The win means that Loughborough have qualified for the end of season play offs for the third time in three years, where they join Team Northumbria. The other two play off spots are still up for grabs, with TeamBath, Mavericks and Brunel Hurricanes still in contention.



Mavericks appear to have the toughest pair of matches ahead of them, facing Brunel Hurricanes athe Hertfordshire Sports Village on Friday, before going to Gateshead to face Team Northumbria on 10 March. They will rue the opportunities which came their way in this fixture, but ultimately Loughborough’s resolve and teamwork was just too strong.

With so many senior and U21 internationals on court for both teams, this match was always destined to be a thriller, and so it proved to be from the opening minute, with plenty of end to end action and hotly contested movement. Clarke's match up with her England colleague Karen Atkinson was one of the evening's highlights, with the defender keeping the pressure on Mavericks' nippy WA and turning over possession at several key points on the Mavericks' circle edge.

The visitors led 11-10 at the first interval, and held on to the single goal advantage to lead 22-21 at half time. Throughout the first 30 minutes of play, neither team could build more than a two or three goal advantage, with defenders Hannah Reid and Verona Tomlin (for Loughborough) and Amanda Newton and Naomi Siddall (for Mavericks) giving their all to slow the opposition's scoring chances.

Former international Alex Wood joined the Loughborough line up for the second half, with England's Jo Harten moving out to GA, and Mavericks struggled to adapt to the towering Loughborough front-line that the line up created. Meanwhile, the Hatfield based side had problems of their own in attack, finding it difficult to release their shooters into space thanks to the close attentions of Tomlin and Reid, and with the usually prolific Brownfield restricted to only three shots on goal for the quarter, Loughborough edged ahead 31-28.

The final quarter was packed with thrilling action, with both teams giving their all to make the vital interception that could alter their fortunes in the game. Time and again Mavericks' defence turned over the ball, only to lose it in centre court to the anticipation and speed of Clarke. Loughborough edged ahead by five goals, to lead 42-37, with Clarke finding Wood with a long bomb under the post with pinpoint accuracy to cheers from the home team. However, Mavericks were not to be outdone, and with Siddall and Newton making turnovers of their own, clawed back four goals to 42-41. Siddall intercepted again with seconds remaining but, in yet another switch of fortune, Harten intercepted her outlet pass and worked her way into the circle and into a shooting position. As the final whistle blew, she was penalised in shooting and, with the crowd on its feet, netted the winning goal to take the points and move Loughborough into the play offs.

Mavericks will need to regroup quickly before Friday's match against Brunel Hurricanes which is a must-win for both teams if their play off aspirations are to be realised – fixtures between the two are usually tense and closely fought affairs and Friday’s game looks set to be a thriller.

Meanwhile, watch all the action from last night's game on Sky Sports Xtra on Thursday at 5.00pm, together with news from this weekend's other fixtures.

Starting line ups:
Loughborough Lightning: GS Harten, GA James, WA Hampshire, C Murphy, WD Clarke, GD Tomlin, GK Reid
Changes/substitutions: 3rd Q: GS A Wood, Harten to GA, 4th Q: Murphy to WA, C O'Neill

Mavericks: GS Brownfield, GA Hall, WA Atkinson, C Jones, WD Elsley, GD Newton, GK Siddall
Changes/substitutions: 2nd Q: GS M Wood, Brownfield to GA, 3rd Q: WA Wiseman, Atkinson to C (back to WA after injury time out), Jones back to C after injury time out, 4th Q: Brownfield to GS, M Wood to GA

Shooting statistics:
Loughborough Lightning: Harten 27/32, James 2/5, A Wood 14/18
Mavericks: Brownfield 24/28, Hall 4/7, M Wood 12/21

Umpires: Margaret Deighan and Judith Groves
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