A Saturday game for Gladesvile Ravens as they travelled south to take on South Coast Flame in Kembla Grange. A solitary first-half goal, wonderfully finished by striker Ange Le Roux, was enough to split the teams, although Ravens will be wondering how they didn’t add to their tally in the second half. A late rally from the home side at this picturesque stadium almost yielded an equaliser in the closing stages, but Ravens survived to continue their push up the Division 2 league table.
Nestled amongst the rolling hills of Kembla Grange in the shadow of the imposing Macedonian Orthodox Monestary of St. Peter lies the beautiful Ian McLennan Park and matching conditions made for unusually warm weather that was always going to get warmer as the game went on. The Ravens were without Annika Lee, Ella Moar and Marli Williams but with the return of Jackie Rice and the team bolstered by Anna Wroughton and Le Roux, there was a powerful bench to rotate through as the heat took its toll.
The home side, with lively right winger Sienna Tripp and captain Kaitlyn Elsner marshalling the team from the centre of midfield, looked solid as the teams sussed each other out in a tense first five minutes. A wayward clearance from Flame goalkeeper Sophie Bailey left her stranded outside of her box as Ravens searched for the early goal, but the visitors couln’t capitalise as midfielders Sienna Bell and Charlotte Douglas got in each other’s way. The first half though saw Ravens create a number of chances, and the corner count was steadily rising. From the first corner the ball fell invitingly for Anika Watson who lobbed a ball in that Bailey couldn’t gather, and Ravens striker Maya Jones battled well but couldn’t finish in the ensuing scramble.
Douglas fed Sophie Steele up the right in a tidy move soon after, and a corner was cleared for Stef Lakic to try her luck from distance, the power good, but the accuracy slightly off, the ball sailing wide. Up the other end Tripp was involved in everything the South Coast Flame conjured up and Zali Wallace in midfield began to get a foothold in the game. But it was the away team who pressed, and when Tahlia Butcher slipped in Le Roux with a neat pass, her effort was well saved by Bailey for another corner. The resulting passage of play saw Rice battle hard to win the ball and set up Le Roux who turned quickly and fired in a shot that Bailey again saved.
For all the endeavour by the visitors, it took a simple move to unlock the Flame defence. A goalkick was intercepted by Alessia Rizzuto who fed Le Roux in acres of space, and the speedy forward made no mistake, tucking the ball inside the left hand post for a great finish. Ravens had their tails up, and they looked to press home the advantage. When Anika Watson cut out a through ball and fed a searching ball through the centre, Butcher left the ball for Le Roux to run through and Bailey came out to smother well at the pacy striker’s feet. Butcher was having a busy game, and she won the ball allowing Rizzuto to flick the ball to Le Roux, the ball deflecting for a corner. The resulting corner was flicked on by Rice, defender Aurelia Smith teed up Wroughton whose thumping shot was blocked.
Lakic was strong in the tackle soon after, and a sublime set of one-touch passes involving Rizzuto and Butcher led Ravens up the right where Le Roux set up Wroughton for the shot, but the effort hit Le Roux and the chance was gone. The half ended with Ravens on the offensive, Rizzuto sending Butcher away again down the right and her cross was fired wide by Wroughton, a lovely move.
The visitors came out firing in the second half and looked menacing from the whistle. Butcher and Jones combined to set away Douglas, but she was tackled as she shot. Rizzuto then lifted a magnificent ball over the top to search out the fabulous run by Steele, but her shot was screwed wide from a good position. Watson fed Rizzuto soon after who unleashed from distance, Bailey making the save, then Bell and Jones combined well before a good tackle stopped the Ravens striker on the edge of the area. At 1-0 up though, there was always danger, and Smith coughed up possession, McCredie quick to react to clear the ball. Abbey Haley made a great run through the middle that was eventually blocked, Ravens taking their foot of the pedal, and Ava Pirozzi mopped up with calm and efficient style to keep the home side at bay.
It was the turn of Jas Waters to instigate a fine one-touch move involving Bell and Pirozzi, who manoeuvered their way out of defence with skill and precision, but the conditions were starting to affect the Ravens, Steele struggling for breath after another lung-busting run, Rizzuto uncharacteristically losing the ball and Watson running on empty. The visitors kept pushing though, Butcher teed up a shot for Rice who pulled the ball wide, then Butcher again somehow bundled through two challenges to work an opening, and the shot from an acute angle was forced wide for a corner. The resulting corner caused panic, but also resulted in a break from the home side, McCredie showing a little too much of the ball to the striker, but managing to clear up the danger at the second attempt after racing from her area.
Try as they might, the Ravens couldn’t find the second goal, Le Roux controlled well to feed Wroughton who won another corner. Rizzuto swung in the ball that was half-cleared, Smith stooped to head goalwards and Wroughton raced in on the follow-up only to see her shot saved. At the other end, Pirozzi was adjudged to have handled, and the quick thinking Elsner took a shot from the quickly taken free kick that McCredie saved. The best chance of the second half was then fashioned by Le Roux, collecting the ball in midfield and embarking on a head-to-head sprint with her defender, who forced her into a heavy touch. She made it to the by-line and the shot was pushed wide, the fans on the far side thinking the ball was in, but it had just gone the wrong side of the post before hitting the side netting.
Nerves began to jangle as the final moments approached. Ruby Milosevski was found in the box in space and took the shot early, McCredie beaten, but the ball hit the outside of the net and Ravens breathed a sigh of relief. Pirozzi then had to be alert to force the ball out for a corner and Amity Longbottom raced through the centre unchallanged until Le Roux appeared from nowhere to steal the ball off her toes as she shaped to shoot.
The final whistle wasn’t long in sounding to bring this absorbing contest to a close. South Coast Flame will be encouraged by their heart and fight today, and Ravens wil be relieved to be taking the three points back to Gladesville after almost allowing the hosts back into it so late in the game.
A hard-fought win for the Ravens, and they go into their game next week with bottom club Camden Tigers on a great run of results. South Coast Flame entertain high flying Central Coast Mariners back at this venue next Saturday.
The Girls Youth League Division 2 continues to serve up good quality entertainment. Ravens do find goals hard to come by, but the efficient manner of their wins means that they are steadily lifting themselves up the league table in the hunt for finals football.
Thanks again to Matt for some quality photos.