The final game of a busy pre-season saw last season’s powerhouse SD Raiders visit Christie Park to take on Gladesville Ravens in a precursor to the 2022 Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2. With competition getting underway next weekend, this was a chance for the home team to gauge their progress up against the skill and flair of a very capable Southern District team. The game delivered entertainment, thrills and spills, and in-form striker Maya Jones again showed that Ravens have recruited well and will surely be competitive this year.
Approaching midday, this game kicked off in bright sunshine and hot humid conditions that followed a night of heavy rain. Gladesville Ravens knew they were in for a stern test today and SD Raiders got off to a lively start, Mimi Zumaya getting into a great position down the left to steer a shot just past the far post in the first minute. With Sophia Furia getting into good positions, it was a surprise when Ravens took the lead wth their first real attack. Stef Lakic played the ball up to Marli Williams on the right and her searching ball in to Jones beat the offside trap and the tall striker fired a pinpoint low shot into the net for 1-0.
SD Raiders were straight back on the offensive, Sharelle Suarez-Garcia bundled through to test Chloe McCredie twice, the Ravens keeper doing well to smother the ball. With silky midfielder Abbie Puckett running the show, there were more chances to follow for the visitors. Zumaya shot from distance, McCredie again saving well, then Tyra Bigante fired in a shot from the edge of the area that the Ravens keeper couldn’t hold, the ball bouncing off the post and back into her hands. Raiders were enjoying the bulk of possession and were finding their way through the Ravens midfield, and on another day they may have finished off one or two of the chances.
The game swung Ravens way as half-time approached, Ella Moar finding her stride down the left to fire in a cross that was just too hot for Jones, then Annika Lee and Jones hunted down their player who coughed up possession; Jones poked the ball through for Sophie Steele, but a questionable offside ruled out a second Ravens goal, the ball smashed unsympathetically into the goal with an emphatic finish. A fantastic tackle by Anika Watson saw a combination of one-twos with Tahlia Butcher, a move lifted straight from the training field, and the subsequent cross from Butcher was touched behind. The Ravens’ tails were up despite the visitors having controlled the game for large parts of an enthralling first half.
The second half was only just underway when the good work was undone; Aurelia Smith couldn’t get the ball clear with the busy Suaez-Garcia in attendance, Adowa Adom picked up the ball and crossed perfectly to the unmarked Zumaya at the far post. Her touch was excellent and the shot was deadly, striking the underside of the bar and over the line for a superb equaliser. The game was there for the taking, Maya Farrell having an increasing influence on the game for the Raiders, but it was Moar for the Ravens who tested the Raiders keeper next, a run and shot well saved before snatching the ball off Jones’ toes on the follow up. Jones lofted in a corner that Jackie Rice connected with on the volley, the ball sent well wide, before Ravens took an unlikely lead.
Lakic took a quick throw up the right which Steele chased; the backpass though from Elise Capano was well anticipated by the marauding Jones, who was on to it in a flash and tucked in a cool finish to regain the lead for the Ravens. Confusion reigned soon after as the ball was put out to allow Steele to limp off injured; from the resulting throw-in, Raiders capitalised and Zumaya fired in a cross that just evaded two incoming strikers. McCredie then saved well from a shot from distance, Zumaya again spun and fired in a shot that McCredie fielded well.
Up the other end, Jones hassled well in the middle of the park to release Moar whose shot was saved, Williams turned sweetly on the edge of the area and fired in a low shot that was expertly saved, before a great chance fell Ravens’ way, Rice winning the ball and sending Jones through only for the excellent Orshina Khosho to block with a last-ditch tackle. From the resulting corner, Ravens defender Smith ghosted past two players to connect with a volley that was saved low-down at the second attempt.
A huge challenge from Watson in the middle of the park earned a talk from the referee as Ravens looked to keep the Raiders at bay and the excellent Ava Pirozzi had to be alert to get herself out of a tight corner, a calm head and an exchange of crisp passes with Jas Waters seeing her emerge from defence with the ball at her feet. Time was running out but the Raiders were still pressing, and they got their reward. A neat turn by Puckett saw her fire in a low cross. Smith reacted to block the ball, but could only watch in horror as she diverted the ball away from the wrong-footed McCredie and into the net for a freak equalising goal.
With Puckett continuing to boss the midfield and Bigante providing some clever touches, the Raiders showed that they had the skill to go on to win the game, but the spirit of the home side, personified by Lee bellowing for the ball when in space, meant that Ravens would see out the rest of the game and settle for a draw.
What a rip-roaring encounter here at Christie Park. This was NPL women’s football at its best; an open encounter, end-to-end action, busy goalkeepers and two teams that should make a mark on this new expanded division 2 in 2022. The season is underway this coming Sunday. Ravens travel to Sutherland, another team who progressed well last year, while the Raiders entertain new kids on the block Blacktown City in an opening day thriller. Stand by for a feast of quality womens youth football.
Thanks again to Matt for the high quality photos in what is a bumper crop of acion shots this week.