Northbridge Bulls 2 Gladesville Ravens 2

The free-scoring Northbridge Bulls were tested right to the final whistle by a dogged Gladesville Ravens side in a pulsating Girls Youth League Division 2 encounter at Northbridge Oval on Sunday. Maya Jones’ sublime finish from a route-one attack had Ravens in the lead early on before Lucy Henry finished well to level for the Bulls. A brilliant second goal from Jones had Ravens ahead at the break, but a fine run and finish by Saskia Burrough in the second half teed up a grandstand finish. Ravens’ shot stopper Chloe McCredie was instrumental in preserving a precious point for the visitors, the home team happy to settle for a point in this marvellous contest.

The picturesque Northbridge Oval and its artificial surface of multi-coloured lines was the setting for an intriguing clash between league leaders Bulls and the visiting Ravens. The visitors had brought a difficult run of results to an end the previous weekend with a slender win, while the home team were a goals machine, every game yielding six or more goals this season so far.

The pace of Sabine Lozina down the right for the Bulls was clear to see early in the opening exchanges, but it was central midfield playmaker Saba Hinton who tested McCredie early on with a shot from distance. That led to a booming clearance from the Ravens keeper catching the Bulls defence flat-footed, and Jones reacted smartly, racing on to the ball before calmly slotting the ball low past Jemma Horley for a shock opening goal.

The Bulls were rattled, and they were not expecting the hassle, determination and endeavour of the visitors. Henry battled well to tee up Hinton for a shot that was well saved by McCredie, before Lozina raced the length of the field only to be blocked by the equally pacy Tahlia Butcher. The equaliser did come though, and Ravens were caught out when Henry pounced on a loose ball and rifled in a shot from the edge of the area, McCredie getting a hand to the ball, but the pace of the shot finding the net for a dramatic goal. Back up the other end, a throw-in down the Ravens right popped out to Sienna Bell who shot just wide and Jackie Rice continued the constant pressure on her former team mates, hassling and harrying whenever not in possession.

The first half was unrelenting and packed with entertainment. Emily Francis stole the ball in the Ravens area and advanced on goal, McCredie coming out well to block at her feet. Ava Pirozzi did well to deal with the threat of Lozina, and a corner from the Bulls’ right was well dealt with again by McCredie, going down bravely to smother in a flurry of legs. Anika Watson in the visitors’ midfield was having a great game, hustling players into hurried decisions, and Charlotte Douglas was always there to pick up the loose ball. Lozina’s run and pass to Francis was halted by Aurelia Smith at the centre of the Ravens defence, and some tough tackling from Annika Lee kept the tempo high.

The game was beautifully poised. Jones’ persistence caused the Bulls defence to cough up the ball, Marli Williams firing over. More hassling in midfield by Ella Moar saw the ball pop out to captain Alessia Rizzuto, whose first-time shot was well saved, Horley pushing the ball around the post for a corner. Rizzuto floated the ball in and a genuine shout for a handball only yielded a second corner. This time, Rizzuto’s cross was met by a thunderous volley from Jones, the ball flashing past Horley before she could react and the Ravens’ striker wheeling away in delight at the stunning strike. Ravens had regained the advantage, and the half-time whistle sounded with the visitors leading and looking good value.

Ravens started the second half on the front foot; a free kick for handball down the left saw Rizzuto float in a free kick that sailed wide. Up the other end there was a dramatic moment when McCredie raced out of her goal to confront Burrough who had broken free in the box, the cross was rolled in and Jas Waters flung herself at the ball to make a miracle goal-line clearance to keep the visitors in the lead. That lead should have been extended moments later when Horley went down to grab an inoccuous through ball. The pace of the artificial turf saw the ball squirm from her grasp, leaving Jones with a glorious opportunity to complete her hat-trick. The low shot instead bounced off the post and Jones was left holding her head in disbelief as the ball bounced behind for a goal kick.

Rizzuto and Watson were battling well in the middle of the park, but it was McCredie again to the rescue as Burrough somehow bundled through, the Ravens keeper diving at the striker’s feet to prevent the shot. The impressive Hinton was forced off with an injury before McCredie watched a free kick float wide of her post as the Bulls threatened. And it wasn’t long before they got their reward, Burrough taking the ball between two defenders to race into the box and finish beautifully to bring the hosts level once more. Burrough advanced into the box moments later, McCredie doing enough to stop her, before Francis raced down the right to tee up Burrough again, this time McCredie right behind the shot.

There was little respite for the stubborn Ravens defence as Francis was shepherded away from goal after a great run and Stef Lakic cleared the danger, before Maike Morris went down injured as the clock ticked towards the end of the game. There was still time for Burrough to race through, McCredie saving well again as the Bulls threatened to snatch the win, but Ravens found themselves on the offensive as the final whistle sounded, unfortunately no time for Rizzuto to take the corner and the game was over.

What an advert for the Girls Youth League here today. Ravens battled hard and could have snatched the win, Northbridge Bulls were caught off-guard and despite having the lions’ share of possession and shots, they were unable to find a winner. Bulls travel to basement club Camden Tigers next weekend while Ravens have their much-anticipated local derby with Inter Lions. The excitement continues. Stay tuned for more.

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