Following an eight month break from Superleague netball, the people of the East Midlands were clearly desperate to witness the new look Loughborough Lightning side in action, as not only was their Fiat Superleague opener against Team Northumbria on Saturday a sell out, but fans were also being turned away. 

And those fans who were fortunate enough to get a place in the Netball Centre were certainly not left disappointed, as they witnessed arguably one of the most exciting, and closely fought out Lightning matches in a long time, with Lightning narrowly winning 49-44.

A storming start saw Lightning give themselves an extensive first half lead, and the bumper crowd could have been forgiven for anticipating a cricket score, as their team looked by far the superior. However, a resurgent third quarter fightback from Team Northumbria set up a tense final quarter, in which Lightning just held on to record a momentous first victory.

Despite changes within the Lightning camp, with star captain Jo Harten leaving for New Zealand and influential coach Murphy calling time on her playing career, the starting seven bared few changes. In the heart of the defence, the stalwart partnership of Afrika Morris and Nicola Caunt returned, with new face Jodie Gibson joining them at wing defence.

Sophia Candappa, fresh from her exploits on the senior England tour of Australia and New Zealand also returned, donning the centre bib, as she looked to cement her place in the side following only brief appearances last season. At wing attack, it was heartening to see injury ravished Michaela MacFarlane at last start for the purples, with likeable Welsh teacher Becky James at goal attack and Lianne Badmin at shooter.

The atmosphere in the netball centre was electric, and this perhaps influenced the closely fought opening encounters of the game, in which there were arguably more players falling to the ground than chances on goal. Despite the visitors initially breaking the deadlock, it was in fact Lightning who dominated the opening quarter, and in quite some style too.

In defence, Morris and Caunt were ruthless, forcing the opposition into mistakes, as well as providing good support to the centre court as Lightning, at times, passed the ball through attack with the ease of a team who had played together for years. As a result of pinpoint, sharp feeding from both MacFarlane and Candappa, shooters Badmin and James were given numerous attempts to punish the opposition – chances which they had no hesitation in converting. As the quarter grew to a close, a boisterous, confident Lightning side dominated the first quarter, going in 18-8 up.

Both sides remained unchanged for the second quarter, and the proceedings remained much the same. Lightning continued their high tempo going through the court, with Gibson on her debut making some fine interceptions to minimize the risk of Northumbria attacks. As the away side battled back and attempted to get a foothold in the game, Lightning often had to mix their fast play with patient build up on the edge of the circle, however James in particular was on fire, and ensured that at nearly every given opportunity, she would extend Lightning’s lead. Half time score 29-17 to Lightning.

The changes made by the Northumbria bench at half time were however arguably what changed the game, with Sarah Penny coming on at goal defence in an attempt to thwart the rampant James in the circle, and Clare Brown at centre. Murphy opted for just the one change, introducing student Jade Forbes Wattley to the proceedings at goal keeper, with Morris moving to the bench. 

Straight away Northumbria’s changes paid off as their captain Samantha Holt blocked the Lightning centre, and, for the first time in the game, the visitors looked fired up for the challenge ahead. Lightning were, however, unlucky to see numerous rebounds and deflections go against them in defence, as Northumbria battled hard for every loose ball, particularly in attack.  As a result of the pressure, Lightning’s approach changed somewhat, often opting for the long ball into Badmin at the spearhead of the attack. 

As the quarter went on, Northumbria gathered momentum, and as a result the margin was reduced to just eight with just one quarter remaining. 38-30 with just one quarter left to play.

With Murphy keen to ensure an upset was not on the cards, she made her final changes of the game. The energetic Macfarlane moved to goal attack, making way for Jordan Moxey to make her debut at wing attack. Badmin moved to the bench with James moving into the goal shooter position. However again the momentum was in Northumbria’s favour, as they piled the pressure on in the centre court and forced Lightning into errors.  As the clock went down, so did the gap between the teams, and Lightning looked relieved when there was a time out with six minutes remaining, as they gathered on court around Murphy and her staff. 

Upon the restart, once again it was the ever-reliable James who calmed the nerves as she cooly converted two shots, to relieve the pressure on the hosts. Northumbria battled to the end, and even with just a minute remaining on the clock, Lightning fans still didn’t feel they could rest easily. However, after what felt like forever for Murphy and her side, the umpire’s whistle went, and a rapturous cheer erupted from the vocal Lightning faithful, as they witnessed their side seal their all important first win of the season.

Lightning’s next game is a live Sky game in the Sir David Wallace Sports Hall, on Monday February 13 at 8pm. Following the sell out crowd of this match, Lightning encourage fans to book in advance to avoid disappointment. For tickets, or more information on Loughborough Lightning, please visit, or follow the team on Twitter – @lborolightning.

Loughborough Lightning: GS – Badmin, GA – James, WA – McFarlane, C –Candappa, WD –Gibson, GD – Caunt, GK – Morris. Subs: Mason, Moxey, Montgomery, Forbes-Wattley, Sinclair


Comments are closed.