NETBALL REPORT: The Downs 65 Hartlepool Oaksway 40

DYNAMO: Natasha Hampshire
DYNAMO: Natasha Hampshire

OAKSWAY face a must-win Premier League showdown with Team Bath Toucans minus their player of the season.

Natasha Hampshire suffered a knee problem in Sunday’s 65-40 loss at the Downs – a defeat which has left the injury-ravaged Hartlepool team just a point above the bottom three.

The loss of the all-action centre hurt much more than the final scoreline.

Hampshire may not be the biggest girl on the court but she punches her weight and much more.

She has been brilliant in the middle of the court all season and now head coach Barbara Brown must call upon one of her old stagers, Natalie Connor or Debbie Percy to fill the void this Sunday at Brierton Community Sports Centre (start 1pm).

“Natasha is a machine and has been outstanding all season,” Brown told SportMail.

“She’s as hard as nails so when she didn’t move I knew it was a bad injury.

“We’ll have to wait and see how it is, but it doesn’t look good.

“It was a long way back from Surrey but we made sure her leg was iced and we’ll get her assessed.”

For all the pain of Hampshire’s premature exit at Guildford, there was some encouragement at the performance of quite an inexperienced Oaksway side.

Up against a strong Downs line-up, the away side started slowly and were 10 points down after the first quarter.

But Oaksway were much more competitive in the remaining three quarters, young goal attack Alex Rhodes getting better as the game wore on.

“Our poor start didn’t help,” explained Brown.

“If you are 10 points down into the second quarter against a side with all their Super League players, you can’t really recoup that.

“I could not knock the effort of the team.

“We had an inexperienced side but they gave it everything and the Downs girls were very complimentary which was nice.”

Brown will look to bolster her squad this week with Connor and Percy.

Connor has not featured all season but returns for the visit of Team Bath while Percy, who came out of semi-retirement to face Leeds, should be available.

Brown says she has no qualms about Connor’s lack of match sharpness, saying “sometimes it’s about having a good head on your shoulders and Natalie has that”.

The manager hopes their expertise allied to the youthful promise in her side will keep Oaksway out of the relegation zone.

“We need to pick up points,” she said. “Having the experienced girls will count but the young girls have got to be confident in their ability as well.

“With all that, I think we’ll get there.”

Oaksway will start favourites against Bath, though the Toucans are no dummies, having won more on the road than at home.

It is followed by another home game seven days later against New Cambell with a trip to bottom club Worcester Reds on March 1.

Hampshire and Vicky Burgess shared the player of the match award at the Downs.

Oaksway: Leah Kennedy, Danielle Smith, Hattie Grant, Natasha Hampshire (Sarah Ferry), Vicky Burgess, Alex Rhodes, Toetsie Kambatuku