28 May 19

Better, but not perfect. The worst performance of the Melbourne Vixens’ season may have been followed by an improved showing against the Southern Steel, but coach Simone McKinnis has warned that even more will be necessary against the third-placed Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane on Sunday.

The Vixens won 58-52 at Hisense Arena on Monday night to return to second spot and tip the Steel out of the top four, but faded in the final minutes of the first two quarters and again when the match was safe in the last. The all-court defensive pressure pleased the coach overall, but not the brief fadeouts.

“I am happy with that,” McKinnis said of the follow-up to the Vixens biggest loss in almost two years, an 11-goal beating by the Firebirds at home in the previous round. “Just the defensive pressure, as a team, we just really needed to lift that, so I thought the work ethic in the group, and sticking to task, in terms of what we wanted to do out there on court, I thought it was very good and much improved.

“I’m pleased with the way we approached the match, I’m pleased (with) the aspects we were very strong and definite about … there on court, but certainly there’d be areas that we’d certainly need to improve on heading into next week with (the) Firebirds.”

McKinnis praised the “fantastic” game of maturing goal attack Tegan Caldwell, whose string of seven unanswered goals in the decisive third quarter helped to retrieve the match, and circle defenders Geva Mentor – a standout for her effort against league scoring leader Jhaniele Fowler, despite the Jamaican’s 45-goal haul – and captain Bianca Chatfield.

“I think the benefits of tonight’s match is they would have felt the rewards of the hard work, the defensive pressure through (the) court, as a team, so that’s important heading into next week,” McKinnis said.

“The only thing not to be happy about was that towards the end of quarters, the last two or three minutes of each quarter, there was a little bit of a drop-off, and even the finish of that (last) quarter we sort of stood still a little bit, so that’s something we need to address, because you can’t have patches of not being full-on.”

So, for the second time in 15 days, the focus now is the Firebirds, who share a 7-2 record and trail only on percentage, with the advantage of playing the return bout at home. Is such a quick rematch for better or worse?

“I think it’s probably good,” McKinnis. “We were really disappointed last Sunday, very disappointed, and it was a long week this week because everybody just wanted to get out and play again. I think it’s good for us to be playing them again. They know the game from last time, they know what they want to do differently, and they’ve got the opportunity within a tight time frame to turn that around, so we’ve got to see that as a positive opportunity.”

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