Manchester Thunder finished the regular Vitality Netball Superleague season nine points clear of their fellow semi-final rivals.
They beat Hertfordshire Mavericks by 14-goals on Monday in their final fixture before the title-deciding semi-finals and Grand Final take place.
Read the Thunder match report below:
Manchester Thunder finished the regular season with a brilliant win over Hertfordshire Mavericks at the Thunderdome.
From defence through to attack, the Black and Yellows were on the money and despite a spirited fightback from Mavericks in the third quarter – and the introduction of star shooter Sammy Wallace at half time – Thunder ran out comfortable winners.
The match was the rescheduled game between the pair after the original fixture was abandoned due to a roof leak, and confirmed Thunder will play Team Bath in the semi finals, while Mavericks will take on London rivals Surrey Storm for a place in the final at the Copperbox on May 7.
Thunder were especially prolific in defence, as Jamaican Malysha Kelly combined well with Jodie Gibson and Emma Dovey slotted right into the game when she replaced the young England defender.
However at the root of everything good Thunder did was captain Sara Bayman, who again showed why she is so pivotal to her team’s success and why she has been nominated for the Vitality Superleague Player of the Season Award.
She produced a string a intercepts and completed countless imaginative passes and worked tirelessly from the first whistle to the last.
Bayman, who was also named player of the match tonight, said: “The score makes it look easier than it was. They missed having Sammy Wallace available for the whole game but we have to be pleased with the way we played.
“We switched off for six or seven minutes in the third quarter and we need to take that out of our game for the semi finals.
“Today we were aware we could have an effect on the standings and we didn’t want anyone to accuse us of not putting 100 per cent in. We are not messing about this year.”
The first quarter was a fairly even contest as the sides traded turnovers and both defences aimed to restrict their opposition’s attacking line.
But Thunder managed to edge their noses in front by the end of the quarter and never really looked back from that point.
Defensively they suffocated Mavericks in the second quarter to really take the game away from the Purple and Blacks and headed in at half time 13 goals to the good (35-22).
Thunder’s attack was pretty consistent for all four quarters but Mavericks’ Sam May and Layla Guscoth had periods of great success in restricting the home team’s feeds into the shooters, with Thunder forced into patient build up play.
Eleanor Cardwell showed great footwork and mobility to get herself into great shooting positions and continued her good form, slotting in well at the tip of the attacking triangle of Natalie Haythornthwaite and Helen Housby, with Kathryn Turner playing her part effectively when she came on for the Cumbrian at goal attack in the second half.
Thunder finish top of the league after securing 13 wins from 14 and will head into Saturday’s home semi final with confidence and belief that they can reach their second final in three seasons.
Thunder starting 7 v Hertfordshire Mavericks: GK Kelly, GD Gibson, WD Malcolm, C Bayman, WA Haythornthwaite, GA Housby, GS Cardwell