Team Bath Netball’s Vitality Superleague semi-final destiny remains in their own hands after they recorded an excellent 56-53 victory at second-placed Manchester Thunder in a must-win match on Saturday.
With Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks having already won their matches, defeat in the last fixture of the day would have seen the Blue & Gold drop out of the top four with just one round to go.
However, they responded to the pressure superbly by producing one of their most complete team performances of the season when they needed it most to take three vital points and maintain their grip on third place in the table.
Team Bath now know that victory in their final game of the regular league season – at home to newcomers London Pulse on Saturday, May 4 (6pm) – will guarantee them a place in the semi-finals.
Tickets have almost sold out for the big game and Team Bath Netball Head Coach Jess Thirlby says the support of the home fans will be crucial when they take on a Pulse outfit whose performances have improved significantly in recent weeks.
“Saturday’s result at Thunder was obviously incredibly pleasing and has kept our destiny in our own hands but we are all aware that it will mean nothing if we don’t back it up against Pulse,” she said.
“There is still a lot of work to do and, despite their league position, Pulse will be a dangerous team. They beat Mavericks a couple of weeks ago and only lost by five in a high-scoring match against Lightning on Saturday. The return of former Team Bath player and England captain Ama Agbeze from injury has given them a massive lift and they will want to sign off their debut season with a statement of intent.
“That’s why the fans have such an important role to play again this weekend. The home support has been outstanding this season, both in terms of the numbers turning out and the atmosphere they have created, and there is no doubt they have helped us over the line in a lot of close matches.
“It would be great to have another sell-out crowd behind us on Saturday and hopefully we can put on a really good show for them.”
Following defeat to fifth-placed Mavericks on Easter Sunday, the pressure was on the Blue & Gold when they travelled north for their showdown with a Thunder side who had also lost their previous match against Lightning.
The hosts settled quickest, racing into an early 7-2 lead and holding a 16-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but Team Bath responded superbly and turned the game on its head in the second quarter.
They showed great composure and resilience right across the court to take a 27-24 lead into half-time, then held off a Thunder fightback in the third quarter to maintain their three-goal advantage before seeing out an excellent victory – their second over Thunder this season.
“We were obviously aware of the ramifications going into the match but we had prepared well and had a good training week, so we just remained focused on ourselves and the task at hand,” said Thirlby.
“The start was not ideal and maybe reflected the nervous energy surrounding the match but there was a determination about the team and once we had settled we were able to really build momentum and belief.
“We were clinical in attack and in possession, which you have to be against a team like Thunder who don’t give up many turnovers, and we made very few errors. They came back at us in the third quarter but you have to expect that against top teams and we didn’t let it affect us – it was perhaps the most composed and calm I have seen this group.
“It was the kind of performance we expect of ourselves and know we are capable of, and it came in a must-win game against top-four opposition which was incredibly pleasing.”
The result means that Thunder, Team Bath and Lightning are all level on 36 points, three clear of Mavericks who have a strong goal difference.
Team Bath, Lightning and Mavericks are all at home in their last game – to Pulse, Celtic Dragons and Strathclyde Sirens respectively – while Thunder are away to Surrey Storm. All matches start at 6pm on Saturday.
Remaining tickets for the Pulse match can be purchased at netball.teambath.com/fixtures or by calling 0844 888 4412.
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Image credit: Clare Green for Matchtight