A more consistent line-up could not deliver a more consistent performance from the Northern Mystics as they battled to a four-goal win over the Southern Steel in Dunedin last night.
Needing to make a strong statement after a hapless performance against the Firebirds last week, the Mystics looked curiously flat as a high error count prevented them from finding their attacking rhythm.
The Mystics started strongly, opening up a 28-21 lead at halftime without ever really looking like they were hitting top gear. But the Auckland side failed to push on after the break, as they became too bogged down with the personal battles across the court which saw their turnover count blow out.
The win ensured the Mystics maintain outright third position on the transtasman league table.
But at a stage in the season when the frontrunners need to be making their mark, their form last night begs the question how much longer they can keep pace with the leaders.
The Mystics ditched their apparent revolving door policy on the bench that had been employed in their previous few matches, with coach Debbie Fuller opting for a more settled line-up last night.
Fuller has been criticised for her liberal substitutions, which reached an almost farcical level in last week's horror outing against the Firebirds, with a string of reactive changes made throughout the match.
The constant mixing and matching of combinations over the last three weeks has been blamed for the Mystics' inconsistent performances.
But despite only minimal changes being made to their line-up, the same concerns over their ability to establish a lead and build on it emerged last night.
Fuller stuck with her starting line for most of the match, the only substitution coming in the final quarter when Grace Rasmussen was injected at goal attack to replace an out-of-sorts Maria Tutaia, who was shooting at just 68 per cent.
Rasmussen could not provide the spark the Auckland side were looking for, as the Steel pounced on Mystics' mistakes to cut a seven-goal deficit at three-quarter-time to just two down the final stretch.
But a late pick-up to Anna Harrison, who had an entertaining battle in-goal with veteran Steel shooters Jodi Brown and Donna Wilkins, allowed the Mystics a bit of breathing room heading into the final minute.
Harrison finished the match with nine intercepts and four deflections, while down the other end of the court Steel defender Demelza McCloud also had an impressive return, notching up six intercepts and five deflections.
The Vixens' unbeaten run came to an end yesterday, with the Melbourne side upstaged 55-52 by the NSW Swifts in Sydney.
Leading 21-13 at the first break, the Vixens looked on track to notch up their seventh straight win this season. But the introduction of English import Sonia Mkoloma, who was curiously left on the bench in the opening spell, helped shore up the Swifts' defensive end, as they stormed back to draw within one at halftime.
The momentum stayed with the Swifts in the second half as Susan Pratley took control of the shooting circle, outshining the much-vaunted Vixens defensive line.
The loss saw the Vixens slip to second on the ladder but on equal points with the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who took over the top spot courtesy of a 60-43 win over the West Coast Fever.