Newcastle’s thirds continued their fight for the league and promotion on Wednesday as they faced Sheffield’s seconds in the sports hall. It was set to be a bitter fight, as both sides were level in the league table ahead of the final few fixtures of the season. In their previous encounter back in November, Newcastle narrowly took victory 29-28, but with both sides’ promotion hopes resting on the game’s outcome it was all to play for, and the pressure was on. Coach Georgia St Rose stressed the importance of the game in her pre-match team-talk, instructing her players to ‘switch on’ in this, a game they ‘have to win’.
“Simple mistakes from Sheffield were used and capitalised on by Newcastle”
Taking to the court, Newcastle’s Chloe Marshall took the first centre, with the first goal of the match coming courtesy of Molly Macleod at GS who used Marshall and Sophie Houghton at WA to work the ball around the circle and shoot. The score remained fairly even during the opening minutes of the first quarter, with Sheffield evening up, despite strong marking from Newcastle. A turnover of Newcastle’s centre which they then converted allowed Sheffield to take the lead, with another goal following soon after.
Simple mistakes from Sheffield were used and capitalised on by Newcastle: a free pass from footwork, and strong defensive pressure which forced Sheffield to make a poor, rushed feed into the D to give Newcastle a back-line pass, gave them the opportunity to bring the score level once more.
“Newcastle struggled to get the ball into the D against Sheffield’s impressively tall defensive duo”
As the quarter progressed, Sheffield began to establish a steady lead, which Newcastle struggled to respond to. Although the ball was moved seamlessly down court by the centre court players, Newcastle struggled to get the ball into the D against Sheffield’s impressively tall defensive duo, leaving the score at 6-11 at the end of the first quarter. St Rose used the break to re-shuffle Newcastle’s attack, bringing on Krista Bennett as GA, and switching Ellie Rutter to WA from WD.
The second quarter started slowly for Newcastle as they took a while to find their stride. Centre passes were marked strongly, as per St Rose’s instructions for a ‘full defence’, forcing Sheffield to use their defence to get the ball out, and move it down the court.
Despite this, Sheffield continued to extend their lead as Newcastle struggled to convert. Sheffield’s GK, Elizabeth Bailey, and GD, Leona Awoyele, standing at 6’2”, and 6’1” respectively made Bennett and McLeod look possibly diminutive in comparison. Such statuesque defenders made it difficult for Newcastle to get rebounds and shoot around such invasive leans. Since lobs and overhead passes made for easy pickings for Sheffield, Newcastle’s feeders were forced to get inventive by rolling and bouncing the ball in. Bennett and McLeod worked hard to create space, with Bennett using her speed to dodge and dart around her player, whilst McLeod held her keeper where she wanted her.
New attempts to get the ball into the D meant that Newcastle had a late flurry of goals with five minutes to go, shortening the gap from 6-16 to 10-17, but it was a case of too little too late, as precise shooting from Sheffield made it 19-10 at half time.
The third quarter brought changes in Newcastle’s defence as Mhairi Jackson was brought on as GK, and Liv Dale moved to GD. The new defensive formation worked well, as Newcastle forced Sheffield to re-set their attack. Jackson used face-to-face marking to keep her GS out of the circle, but Sheffield’s clinical shooting meant that they were still able to increase their lead. Although Newcastle had many chances, and made many interceptions they just weren’t able to convert against such strong, unforgiving circle defence, and were left trailing 18-34 at the end of the quarter.
“The third quarter brought changes in Newcastle’s defence as Mhairi Jackson was brought on as GK”
The final quarter started with a four goal scoring streak from Newcastle, for which Sheffield had no response, with lovely feeds into the D from Marshall. Newcastle’s defence remained tight- interceptions and turnovers were rife, and Sheffield were forced to recycle the ball in their attack. However, Newcastle weren’t able to keep up this initial dominance, as Sheffield fought back. The final few minutes were frenzied from both teams as they grafted hard for goals, cheered on from those on the side-lines. Despite Newcastle’s efforts, the score as the final whistle blew was 45-29, a somewhat unfair reflection of Newcastle’s play.
Coaches St Rose and Laura Brady said that the match was ‘hard against such a tall team’. St Rose commended the evident fitness of the team, and the way that Newcastle were able to stay calm under the pressure, which will put them in good stead for their upcoming game in Stan Calvert.
This loss means that Newcastle slip to third in the league, three points behind now jointly first-placed Durham and Sheffield.