The bright start to the 2022 season by the Ravens continued on Sunday as they had to grind out a win at Christie Park against a very spirited Blacktown City. After a first half where City had litle trouble containing the hosts, a thumping volley from central defender Aurelia Smith got Ravens off the mark midway through the second half. A poacher’s goal from gifted striker Maya Jones gave the home side breathing space and despite a strong finish, the Ravens could not add to their tally.
Ravens were without their right back Stef Lakic for this one, but welcomed back Anika Watson into the midfield enforcer role. For Blacktown, captain and set-piece specialist Jemma Whalen was the key to the vistors’ defence, and it was the visitors who started the game off with a lot of defending to do. Tahlia Butcher was prominent in her wing back role for the home team. and she started with a romp down the right to win the first of a series of corners delivered by Jones. From the third, Smith got her head to the cross and Alessia Rizzuto’s up and under was claimed by Ruby Rojas in the City goal. The left side of the field was the focus as Ella Gillard had to work hard to contain the runs of Butcher and Sophie Steele, but it was from Blacktown’s first corner that Ravens got their first real opportunity, Ava Pirozzi bursting out of defence, teaming up with Sienna Bell, but the attack broke down.
Neither team was mastering the basics, but there were flashes of undeniable skill as the sun came out and the synthetic surface started to bake. Marli Williams made a dynamic run from her own half, teeing up Jones for a shot, the ball falling to Bell, but her shot was well blocked again by the firm City defence. A snap-shot from Jackie Rice was then closed down and City continued to frustrate their hosts, while Charlotte Douglas toiled hard in the middle of the park looking for the elusive goal for the home team. Tallulah Don-Wakefield found herself free in the box only to skew her shot wide as City rallied, and the Ravens defence was under pressure again as Whalen threw free-kicks into the area looking for the breakthrough.
Butcher then raced down the right again, feeding Jones who was adjudged to be offside, but Rojas bravely still had to go down at her feet to smother the chance. Rizzuto set up Angie Le Roux down the Ravens left soon after, her run and shot blocked as Ravens began to make headway. It was City who had possibly the best chance as half-time approached; Kaitlyn Apps somehow bundled through three challenges to get her strike away, smothered by Chloe McCredie in the Ravens goal.
With the game locked at 0-0, the visiting players had the extra spring in their stride. They started the second half with a corner that saw McCredie push the ball away for another corner. The subsequent cross was well dealt with by Watson and Ravens survived. Rizzuto’s influence on the game then became apparent; she seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and combined with Bell up the right to shoot just wide. Another flurry of activity saw a corner from Jones from the left bounce awkwardly in front of goal and Ella Moar was in attendance but couldn’t find the final touch. Moar then raced into the box and forced another corner. The set-piece was swung into the box, Smith’s run met the ball on the edge of the six-yard box and the volley connected perfectly, sending the ball into the net for a dramatic opening goal.
Ravens had a head of steam now. Butcher again romped down the right, but the cross didn’t match the run, then Williams found space in the box but the ball was cleared. Up the other end, Apps again showed great persistence to reach the edge of the box, but was held up.
A second goal arrived, and this was a lovely move. Jas Waters took her time to scan for options as she strode out of defence with the ball; her inch-perfect ball around the defender found Williams. She jinked back from the by-line and shot on goal from an acute angle. It was too hot to handle for Rojas and the rebound fell perfectly for Jones who smashed in the second goal without a moment’s hesitation.
Ravens had hit their straps, and Rizzuto had found an extra gear. Great work by Annika Lee forced the ball out to Rizzuto, and her shot whistled past the post. The Ravens captain shot from distance a few moments later to test Rojas, before she raced on to her own pass to cross right in front of the keeper, but Rojas saved again and thwarted what would have been a fantasic individual goal.
Ravens just couldn’t find that third goal, and the final whistle brought the game to a close. They had triumphed 2-0, a clean sheet for McCredie with an assured performance. In truth, after the first half, coach Stephen Bott may have settled for that at half-ime, but with the total dominance in the latter stages it could and should have been a more convincing scoreline. Ravens are yet to deliver the complete attacking performance that their play suggests; we look forward to seeing that in weeks to come as the league table begins to take shape.
Well done to Blacktown City for a composed defensive display in the first half, where they could have taken a lead in at the break, but congratulations to Ravens for taking the game by the scruff of the neck midway through the second half and treating the watching fans to an exciting final fifteen minutes of attacking onslaught.
Ravens now travel to the powerful SD Raiders for a battle at Ernie Smith Reserve, while Blacktown City head to Nowra for a showdown with South East Phoenix as this marathon 30-game season continues in earnest.
Thanks again to Matt for the photos, as well as some guest snaps from Steve. Much appreciated.