The penultimate game of the first half of the Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 season saw Gladesville Ravens entertain bottom club Camden Tigers on a rainy Sunday at the home of football, Christie Park. A tense opening to the match where Ravens toiled but were wasteful in front of goal changed complexion when Maya Jones notched a fantastic hat-trick, three sublime finishes in a short few minutes turning the game completely. The traditional post-half-time lull from the hosts gave the visitors hope, but further goals from Jones, Sophie Steele and Jackie Rice condemned the Tigers to a heavy defeat that could and should have been by a greater margin. Despite the result, coach Stephen Bott will know that there is still a lot of work to do to get the best out of his team.
From the opening kick off, Ravens were on the attack, Alessia Rizzuto launching a ball to Steele up the right and the cross saw Ella Moar shoot just wide. Almost immediately after, midfield dynamo Anika Watson sent in a looping shot that goalkeeper Stacey Ellis couldn’t hold on to, but she managed to bravely smother Rice’s follow up to prevent a first minute goal. Abbey Zids at the heart of the Tigers defence was busy, and she could only watch on as an impressive one-touch move up the Ravens left saw Rice send Moar away, her cross met by Jones, but Ellis was equal to it. A deft free kick from Rizzuto was only slightly in front of Jones and the chance was gone, Ravens dominating the game, but unable to find the killer touch.
Lively midfielder Hayley Johnson was working well in midfield, but nothing would work for the Tigers, Chloe McCredie in the Ravens goal fielding loose passes and hopeful through balls, but not having any chances to deal with. The hosts continued to push, Stef Lakic embarking on a lung-busting run to cross for Moar, but the chance was well blocked. Rice again combined with Moar, the cross-shot dealt with by Ellis in the Camden goal. A fine move from Jones, who drilled the ball across the field for the rampaging Steele to run on to, saw the shot whistle wide, then Lakic battled well to win the ball for Jones, who advanced and struck a fine shot that was again saved by Ellis. When Rice raced on to a precision pass by Moar, the defence opened up and the Ravens striker shot well only to see Ellis fling herself full length to tip the ball around the post for a corner. The resulting corner was met by defender Aurelia Smith, but her header cleared the bar comfortably.
The opening goal when it came was worth the wait. The excellent Lakic lifted a superb ball through for Jones, who controlled and advanced on goal at speed, slotting the ball home beautifully for 1-0. A startlingly similar build up soon after saw Lakic play another telling pass to Moar, a suspicion of offide, but she left the ball for Jones, the speedy striker outpacing the defender to finish smartly with a low shot for 2-0. A quick-fire hat-trick was denied when Steele fed Jones, the shot fired wide when a goal seemed the most likely outcome. Steele then had a shot that was blocked and Marli Williams’ strike was deflected for a corner, before Steele did very well to win the ball and tee up Jones who raced on to smash the ball home for her third of the game.
Another excellent ball from Lakic found Steele in space, and she went in bravely with keeper Ellis, the scramble eventually halted by a belated offside flag. Fierce battling by Charlotte Douglas then set up Rizzuto who unloaded from distance, Ellis flinging herself across goal to save, and the half ended with Jones sprinting away down the right and crossing just ahead of the in-rushing Steele.
The half-time talk from coach Bott urged the Ravens to keep the pressure on, and there was a plea to the team to find another goalscorer, the team relying too much on the cool composure and expert finishing of the powerful Jones.
A well documented trait of the Ravens this season is the short period after half time where they struggle to get back into the groove, and today saw this demonstrated perfecly. Rizzuto’s inoccuous handball was lifted in by Johnson, and when Watson cleared, she shot again, but McCredie was right behind it. Johnson again launched in a long-range shot from the left that was fielded by McCredie, while up the other end Rice collided with keeper Ellis and came off second best, making her way off holding her knee in worrying scenes. The half wasn’t going the home team’s way, and when Rizzuto escaped a yellow card for a blatant shirt tug, the resulting free kick from Johnson was cleared away for a rare corner for the visitors. Ellie Fenner was coming into the game more and Camden had a good spell where the Ravens couldn’t get out of their own half.
When Rizzuto sliced open the defence for Annika Lee to run on to and shoot into the side-netting, the game changed complexion, and the shackles were off for the home team. Moar intercepted the goal kick and fired in a shot that Elis smothered, then moments later had a second chance from the same position, which Ellis again held well. Lakic lifted a ball up the right to Lee who fizzed in a low cross, which was cleared, then Jones got into a good position in the box and her cross was pushed away by Ellis. A tidy pass by Douglas then set Moar away again, this time the shot collected at the second attempt after a fine save by Ellis. Ravens finally got their first goal of the second period, Lee slipping in Jones with a delightfully weighted ball after a good run down the right and the finish was emphatic through the keeper’s legs for 4-0.
When Jones teed up Douglas, racing clean through, Ravens thought they had a great chance for a fifth, but the defender was quick to close down and the shot was inches wide from a great position. Billie Letsios then slipped in Rice to fire home, but the flag had already gone up for offside, and that started a frustrating sequence of play. First, Smith lifted a great free kick into the path of Jones, who strode into the box unchallenged with the goal at her mercy, only to roll the ball to Rice in an offisde position and the resulting goal was correctly ruled out. Then Rice was caught a yard offside before she launched a searing shot in under the bar, a goal that would have been a contender for goal of the season, again correctly disallowed on the assistant referee’s flag.
Williams romped down the left when teed up by Tahlia Butcher, cutting in and forcing a great save down low by Ellis for a corner. The resulting corner caused panic, and the ball eventually fell for Steele, who steadied herself before striking the ball confidently past the stranded Camden keeper for the fifth goal. Lee then raced down the right again, and crossed low for Rice to lift a shot well over the bar, her head in her hands after being denied earlier. An excellent moment by Lakic saw her keep the ball in and feed Jones in the box. This time the ball was rolled in perfectly to Rice whose first shot was saved from point-blank range, but the follow-up was buried by a relieved Rice, the joy on her face there for all to see.
The visiting Tigers couldn’t get out of their half by now, and were struggling to get out of their box from goal kicks. Lakic raced down the right and crossed for Rice to shoot over, and from the resulting goal kick, Rice intercepted but could only slice the ball wide as the Tigers escaped again. A late corner then saw Lakic connect, but the deflection took the ball agonisingly past the post, and the final action of the game saw Douglas intercept the clearance from Ellis to feed Jones who slashed the ball harmlessly wide. A six-goal victory certainly didn’t flatter the home team; they could and should have scored many more, and with an assured defence where Ava Pirozzi didn’t put a foot wrong, and with Watson unbeatable in midfield, there were big positives to come out of the game. Another clean sheet for shot-stopper McCredie was also welcome, her fourth shut-out of the season.
Gladesville Ravens move closer to the top four now, albeit having played more games than those around them. The lack of goals does continue to be a concern, and on today’s showing, a visiting team that was devoid of confidence and out on their feet in the second half should have been put to the sword.
Ravens travel to Nowra for next week’s game against South East Phoenix to round off the first half of the season, and that could prove a tricky fixture. Camden Tigers have a chance to get off the mark against Mount Druitt Town Rangers next Sunday, before we move into the run-in to the end of the season.
Thanks to Matt and Steve for the photos. Great shots!