Gladesville Ravens 2 UNSW 2

A last gasp save from stand-in goalkeeper Amelia Shepherd earned a point for Gladesville Ravens as UNSW almost snatched an unlikely victory at Christie Park in the first game of the second round of games in the NPL2 Under 14 womens on Sunday morning.

A scrappy first half ended 1-0 to the visiting Uni team, a tame shot from Olivia Vecchio bouncing through the grip of Shepherd. An invigorated Ravens team came out and fought back with two quick goals, first Alessia Rizzuto slotting home and then Sienna Bell finishing from close range.

Ravens conceded a penalty late in the game which was expertly dispatched by Alexie Wall, before a last minute chance saw Vecchio race clear but her shot was pushed away by Shepherd to keep the score at 2-2.

An overcast morning at the home of football in North West Sydney, Christie Park, saw two teams at the wrong end of the table come together for the second time this season, following a thrilling draw on the opening day of the season on Easter Monday at ES Marks. This promised to be more of the same, and with both teams struggling to convert good play into points, this was a game that both coaches had earmarked as an important morale booster to start the second round of matches in the 2021 season.

With regular captain Anna Wroughton, goalkeeper Chloe Mccredie and striker Sage Melhem out for the Ravens, stand-in keeper Shepherd was drafted in for the second time following her debut in that 3-3 draw in the Eastern Suburbs. It was a shaky opening from the young shot-stopper, a throw intercepted but smothered by the defence and then a wayward kick drilled just wide of the post as Ravens struggled to get going. Defender Issy Franks did well to control a through ball but was then dispossessed, the cross-shot blocked well by Tahlia Butcher.

Shepherd saved well from a long-range effort soon after, but in the next move a low shot from Vecchio was fumbled, and the striker followed in to tuck the ball into the empty net for a deserved 1-0 lead to UNSW. Ravens were stung into action, a throw-in on the left from Jas Waters found Rizzuto who fed Moar to rifle in a shot that was well saved. Waters found herself in a good position to shoot just wide soon after, and Lexi Mavraidis swept in a shot that was tipped wide by UNSW keeper Nikita Hardiman. The lively Moar then ran from halfway to shoot into the side netting, but the half ended with Uni on the attack, a shot from Vecchio excellently saved by Shepherd.

A half-time score and a performance that would not have pleased the Ravens coaches, and they had to come up with something to get back into this game.

The visiting central defenders Lilly Redding and Sinead Fisher had been relatively untroubled in the first half, marshalled well by Hardiman behind them, but they could not have expected the onslaught that they would face at the beginning of the second half. A renewed Ravens launched wave after wave of attack, and they were quickly back on level terms after winning a corner. The set piece from Mavraidis was pinballed around the penalty area where Rizzuto showed a calm head and swept the ball into the net for a quickfire equaliser.

Georgia Lim was rampant up the left for the Ravens; her mazy run set up Eme Johnson who fired straight at Hardiman. More corners caused havoc in the UNSW defence, then Lim went on a fantastic run and took a shot. Hardiman parried and Mavraidis was there to finish but scuffed her strike and the chance went begging. The industrious Lucy Hardaker showed her attacking prowess with a strong run up the Ravens left, holding off the defender to drill in another shot that was cleared. UNSW were under siege.

Ravens finally converted their dominance into a second goal, a devilish corner from Mavraidis arriving in the six yard box where Bell poked home the ball to give Ravens the lead. Jackie Rice then beat her defender to fire straight at Hardiman, before UNSW finally got some respite. A corner was lifted into the Ravens area and a goalmouth scramble eventually ended with a free kick to the home side. Shepherd then kicked straight to an attacker but Bell was there to clear up. It was end to end stuff now.

Moar was having a fantastic time down the Ravens left, released by Waters to feed the in-rushing Lim, but she had to reach for the shot and the ball sailed over from ten yards with the goal at her mercy. Back down the other end and a tackle by the excellent Ava Pirozzi was adjudged to be a foul and UNSW had a penalty. Up stepped Wall to brilliantly smash the ball high into the top left hand corner with Shepherd given no chance and that set up a thrilling end to the game. A clearance by Uni saw Butcher try her luck from distance, the ball just bouncing wide, then Moar raced away again to cross for Rice who couldn’t force the shot in.

There was time still for Rizzuto to bundle her way through her defender into the box to fire into the side-netting before UNSW fashioned one final chance down the right, Vecchio fed through the middle with Shepherd to beat, but the rookie Ravens keeper stood tall and fielded the shot to the relief of her teammates.

The final whistle was met with applause from the crowd. They had witnessed an unbelievable turnaround by the Ravens at the start of the second half, but Uni had stayed in the game and got their reward. Captain Ava Fazio and keeper Hardiman, both former Ravens players, embraced in relief. Both teams will welcome the point, but in truth this was a game that could have gone either way. Well done to both sides for a thrilling second half and an exciting conclusion to this game.

UNSW now take on Nepean looking for more points to lift themselves up the table, whereas Ravens will need to step up a gear when they host Marconi back at Christie on the weekend.

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