UNSW 1 Gladesville Ravens 1

Round three of the 2022 GYL2 Under 15s season saw Gladesvile Ravens travel to the Shire to take on University of NSW at Seymour Shaw Park in Miranda. This was a day for the football purist, with heavy rain and flash flooding around Sydney making the journey to the stadium treacherous, but with a comfortable main stand, there was shelter for everyone from the elements. Following a stalemate in the first half, the visiting team got their noses in front with a long range free kick from midfield playmaker Alessia Rizzuto, but a contentious penalty slammed home by Olivia Vecchio brought the scores level. Despite the endeavour, neither team could find a winner and the points were shared.

On what must be one of Australia’s first synthetic fields, with the Loftus Road extra bounce, UNSW took the game straight to Ravens from the opening whistle. Alexie Wall looked very lively in midfield, and with Charlie Coelho and Hannah Cooper in the centre of defence, this was a strong backbone to the home side. Mimi Sewell made headway early on, winning a corner off the Ravens’ Ava Pirozzi as UNSW pressed. Ravens were without striker Jackie Rice, regular shot stopper Chloe McCredie and left defensive lynchpin Jas Waters and called on their youth to fill the squad.

Ravens eventually settled when they began to understand the roll of the ball, and the game swung their way with a series of corners at the Boulevarde end, Ella Moar heavily involved up the left. A sliced clearance from one corner almost hit the back of the net but was headed over. A momentary lapse in the Uni defence then saw Marli Williams pounce from a loose pass, and she shot well but straight at former Ravens keeper Nikita Hardman. Despite some flashes of inspiration from Vecchio up front for the home team, it was one way traffic. Dangerous forward Maya Jones shot just wide on the break, defender Aurelia Smith delivered a quick free kick to Sienna Bell who was only just offside, Charlotte Douglas looked at home in an unorthodox attacking role, before the best chance of the first half fell to the visitors. Angie Le Roux romped down the left and evaded her marker to deliver a low pass into the six yard box where Jones swept in but could only help the ball into the keeper’s arms from point blank range.

Stef Lakic was covering a lot of ground down the right and she played in Rizzuto who won another corner, but the end product was not there despite heavy traffic in the area. Anika Watson was upended down the right for a free kick that again couldn’t find a player, before some quick thinking from Rizzuto almost gave Ravens the lead. A drop ball, awarded when the referee was struck by the ball, was lifted over to Jones on the run, but her shot was wide. Ravens were dominating, despite the stern presence of enforcer Ava Fazio in the Uni midfield, but they couldn’t find the net. Jones stole the ball from a goal kick and shot over when well placed, Rizzuto offloaded from distance straight at the keeper, and Bell’s shot was touched wide for a corner. At the other end, the under-employed Ravens goalkeeper Lucy Goss, who had fleetingly shown her command of the box and expert handling, could only watch on and shake her head as the set pieces were wasted. The visitors trudged off at half time knowing that they had missed a great opportunity to establish a firm lead.

The second half was just getting underway when Ravens won a free kick, despite the foul appearing to be on the UNSW player in the middle of the park, too far out surely to shoot on goal. With no wall in place, Rizzuto had other ideas and lifted in a shot that bounced awkwardly at the feet of Hardman and squirmed into the net for a freak opening goal. Rizzuto wasn’t complaining, and a celebration that Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud of greeted the prolific midfielder’s third goal of the season. Annika Lee then asserted her authority with a crunching challenge that almost squirmed into the path of Jones, and Ravens were off and running.

Uni went in search of an equaliser, Sophia Mikhail testing Goss with a long range shot. Vecchio went on a bundling run that was halted by Smith, but it was Ravens who looked the more likely to score again. Jones’ shot from distance was saved by Hardman once more with her feet, before a mix-up presented Sophie Steele with a great opportunity. A telegraphed clearance was expertly read by the Ravens midfielder as the defenders turned their backs, but she could only lift the ball an inch over the bar with the keeper stranded, her hands on her head in disbelief.

Smith was forced off after a crunching tackle in the middle of the park and from the next passage of play UNSW forced a corner as Watson intercepted well. The corner was floated to the near post where defender Douglas controlled, the ball bouncing up inadvertently into her hand, the home team claiming the penalty. By the letter of the new handball laws, this could be deemed accidental, but the referee was unmoved and pointed to the spot. Vecchio slammed home the penalty despite the best efforts of Goss who got her hand to it.

Three consecutive corners for the visitors then saw the pendulum swing back the Ravens’ way, Steele working hard to force the first in the series. Tahlia Butcher was lurking at the edge of the area when the final corner was cleared; she controlled with precision and fired in a looping shot that was palmed away by Hardman, the sun by now taunting the wrapped-up supporters in the main stand. Le Roux then had a great run up the left which was blocked, and she repeated the feat soon after, dancing into the box, clean through, only to shoot straight at the keeper when well placed. The intricate combination play down the right from Lakic and Steele was bringing rewards too and the visitors looked dangerous.

There was danger though at the other end as Goldie Van Dijk burst through and blazed over when well placed. Lee then won a free kick centrally, when it looked like it might go the other way, a carbon copy of the goal situation. This time Rizzuto lifted in a beautiful ball to Jones, who fired over as the offside flag was raised. Another great run by Jones then saw her struggle to control the bouncing ball and Hardman made yet another save to deny the visitors in what was a very busy game.

The now customary romp from her own half by Pirozzi then almost freed Moar down the left, but the ball rolled away and with it Ravens’ hopes of the three points. Inspirational coach Stephen Bott was stoic at the final whistle, knowing that on another day, Ravens could have racked up a good score, but given the wild conditions and the unfamiliar pitch, a point was most welcome. Once they find the magical set piece formula and someone takes command in the opponents’ penalty area, these draws could turn into handsome wins.

Ravens move now on to a real test this coming weekend when they entertain big guns Marconi at Christie Park, while UNSW are again at home, this time welcoming Mount Druitt Town to Seymour Shaw. With postponements over the weekend, we are still none the wiser as to how the league is shaping up, but the top three of Northbridge Bulls, SD Raiders and St George FC are flexing their muscles early in this big season of Girls Youth League football.

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