Celtic Dragons were under no illusions about the challenge ahead in facing 2019 champions Manchester Thunder on Sunday evening, but it was a great start for the team in green. An attacking contact for Thunder allowed Dragons to take an early 3-goal lead, but such was the quality of the opposition that the lead was soon chalked off. Dragons were unfazed however and Amy Clinton kept her composure in front of goal against her former team. Thunder shooter Joyce Mvula was as dynamic as ever, but Annika Lee-Jones kept to her task and forced the turnover to give Dragons another scoring opportunity. It was back-and-forth for the majority of the quarter and Dragons were unlucky to be behind by 2 at the end of the quarter with a Clare Jones interception being adjudged to be a contact and Amy Clinton just running out of time on her final shot.
Manchester Thunder made a change in defence at the start of the quarter as Dragons looked to retake the lead. Shona O’Dwyer did a fantastic job of leading the Dragons drive, but Thunder seemed to have the rub of the green on a couple of 50/50 calls and were able to keep Dragons in check on the scoreboard. Rebekah Robinson was confronted by a wall of Thunder defenders before ceding possession on a held ball, but down court Abby Tyrrell used her athleticism to force the ball out and keep the opposition at bay. Tania Hoffman has often talked about reverting to habits when the pressure is turned up and her fears were visualised as Dragons threw a few overly ambitious feeds downcourt into the hands of the northern side. Thunder did make some further changes midway through the period and this seemed to give Dragons the impetus to get back into the match before wing-attack Laura Rudland went down with a nasty looking leg injury and had to be helped off court. Wales U21 graduate Rebecca Baker came on for Rudland as Dragons looked to regroup and it was a great conclusion to the half for the Dragons defence who helped the team put a run of goals together to keep in touch.
Dragons were confident returning to court for the second half, with Clinton looking cool, calm and collected in regathering a rebounded shot. Dragons had early opportunities to counter-attack with some turnovers, but too often they were a bit cautious in doing so, giving Thunder time to scramble their defence and force the held ball call. The physicality was ramping up as the quarter progressed, but Robinson was taking no prisoners in the circle, holding her group and providing Clinton with options. Ultimately, Thunder’s proven ability to get their centre pass to goal saw them cling firmly to their lead despite Dragons ability to consistently poach ball.
The final quarter saw Thunder score 8 goals unanswered in five minutes, with Lee-Jones eventually winning an interception to help Dragons get back in the groove. Thereafter, Dragons kept it tight and demonstrated renewed patience and composure to get right back into the quarter and finish with pride – halving the scorline deficit from their previous encounter with the Manchester side.
Next week is a bye-week for Dragons who will next hit the Superleague court on 28 May as part of a double-header weekend.
13-15 (13-15); 08-13 (21-27); 08-15 (29-42); 11-12 (40-54)