The St Andrews netball firsts produced a memorable rear-guard performance to see off a talented Sheffield Hallam outfit and ensure their progression in the Cup. The game was played with a consistently high tempo throughout and this tone was set in the opening seconds of the encounter, with both sides trading scores. This standard was certainly appreciated by a sizeable crowd who could enjoy the game from the comfort of the temporary bleachers constructed in the sports centre, which not only heightened the viewing experience for the spectators but also added greatly to the sense of occasion the fixture enjoyed. The home crowd also had much to cheer in the match’s early stages, as the Saints shocked Hallam with some high-octane offensive plays, scoring three points on consecutive attacks. The visitors did however manage to restore parity as the quarter progressed, capitalising on a series of Saints errors as well as some lapses in concentration defensively. The rest of the opening quarter saw the hosts enjoying much of the territorial dominance through gaining the upper hand in the middle third, albeit while failing to capitalise on their dominance, unable to convert some clear-cut opportunities. St Andrews ultimately ended the opening quarter of the contest with a somewhat comfortable 19-15 lead, even if this still wasn’t wholly representative of their overall dominance.
It was the visitors however who started the second quarter in the driving seat in what was an error-strewn period of the match, managing to keep the Saints in touch, although the hosts did eventually regain their rhythm and came roaring back with three unanswered points to reassert their dominance over the encounter as the quarter reached its midway point. Perhaps sensing the need to get themselves back into contention, the latter stages of the first half saw Hallam begin to really test the Saints’ defense for the first time in the encounter. Although their defence was beginning to come under strain, the hosts could still rely on their goal-shooting on offence, which was near exemplary throughout the whole contest and was ultimately what separated the two sides. This coupled with their rapid counter-attacking style allowed them to maintain a buffer from their opponents. Hallam’s shooters were also hamstrung by a series of crucial defensive stops as the half reached its end, ensuring at the break St Andrews boasted a clear, if not wholly comfortable, 33-30 lead.
The back-and-forth trend that was a key feature of the first half was continued in the opening stages of the second, although it was Hallam’s greater intensity, especially on the flanks, that saw them force themselves to within one point of the hosts with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, the closest they had got to going in front so far. St Andrews continued to lean on their strong shooting success rate yet were continually undone by some uncharacteristic ill-discipline at the back, ensuring the visitors from Yorkshire only trailed 41-38 with five minutes to go in the quarter.
As the third quarter transitioned to the last, Hallam’s attacks did become increasingly frantic as they perhaps sensed the contest slipping from their grasp. This caused them to lose some of their earlier tempo in attack and in fact present the Saints with greater opportunities on the counter. St Andrews were largely able to maintain their composure and convert the chances afforded to them, ensuring that they were sitting on a comfortable 47-41 lead at the buzzer ending the third quarter and subsequently continued their dominance at the start of the fourth, easing over the 50 point milestone as Hallam’s discipline began to desert them. The visitors refused to surrender however, as they registered a couple of valuable scores as a degree of complacency perhaps began to creep into the Saints’ collective mind-set. This however was displaced quickly and the hosts, surely boosted by the fact they had five substitutes compared to Hallam’s solitary one, made their greater stamina count as the fourth quarter wound down, frustrating Hallam to take a comfortable 56-49 lead into the final six minutes.
However, the closing stages would prove to be anything but comfortable for the Saints, as Hallam enjoyed a late rally in an attempt to snatch an unlikely victory. With three minutes to play the Saints lead had been slashed to just three points as their rhythm became more muddled, perhaps owing to the nerves of attempting to hold out for such a significant triumph. Ultimately however, buoyed by an ecstatic crowd, they managed to reassert their dominance over the flow of the game, controlling the clock beautifully and adding some crucial scores to ensure this highly enjoyable encounter ended 60-58 to St Andrews. The Saints can now look forward to a last 16 tie against Loughborough twos in the New Year, whilst Hallam were left to face the prospect of a marathon journey home, reflecting on what could’ve been.