Gladesville Ravens 1 Sutherland 0

The second round of matches in the NPL NSW Girls Youth League Division 2 kicked off this weekend and Gladesville Ravens snatched a dramatic win against Sutherland Shire at Christie Park to keep up the momentum that has made everyone sit up and take notice. A solitary first-half strike from hot-shot Maya Jones and some heroic defending was just enough to bank the three points in a fascinating match-up at the home of football in North West Sydney.

An icy cold morning in the Sydney suburbs made way for a sunny day as Ravens went in to battle with Sutherland looking to avenge the last minute equaliser that tarnished the opening day fixture in the Shire way back in February. A full-strength Ravens squad, a luxury not often afforded to the home team this season, was a boost for a team looking to build on their strong finish to the first half of the season. The visitors had been beaten by leaders Northbridge the previous week, their first defeat of a stellar season so far.

The visiting team looked more switched on early in the game, with Lauren Wells looking lively on the left wing and Meika Harris bustling in midfield. An early chance was presented to the Shire side, defender Aurelia Smith’s pass cut out and a cross rifled over by Renee Penitani. Ravens sparked into life, captain Alessia Rizzuto making progress down the left to cross dangerously, and the left-hand side was a good source of quality possession in the Sutherland half for the black and whites.

A looping cross from Ruby Hart from the left then presented Sutherland with a great chance to open the scoring. As the ball bounced ten yards from goal, goalkeeper Chloe McCredie was committed to the punch but Penitani nipped in to beat her to it and the ball headed towards the empty net. Cue central defender Ava Pirozzi to steam in from nowhere to clear the ball off the line, her momentum and a little nudge from Penitani sending her into the back of the net. Some concern for the Ravens player, who hit the net at pace, but she was up bravely to continue.

Ravens continued their pressing down the flanks, this time Sophie Steele and Stef Lakic linking up well but they couldn’t find the killer pass, and Sienna Bell made space down the left to poke in a cross, the ball falling for Jackie Rice whose shot was boomed over the bar. A moment of panic had the Ravens worried when Smith and McCredie left the ball for each other, the wily keeper keeping her wits about her and diving on the ball to prevent a freak goal as the ball was played back in to the unmarked striker. The game looked as though it might be settled by a single piece of magic or a disastrous mistake, and Jones was determined it would be the former as she lashed a shot wildly over after good work by Bell.

A moment of controversy then descended on Christie Park. Excellent hold up play by Jones and battling by Steele saw her lay the ball to Rizzuto who curled a shot goalwards, just clearing the bar. Somehow though, the ball bounced back out of the net and for a moment the bumper crowd thought they’d seen the opening goal. The referee signalled the goal, before common sense prevailed and he went to inspect the net – sure enough there was a hole in the top of the net and the ball had dropped perfectly through it.

The impressive Penitani then embarked on a Maradona-style run through the midfield, first skipping past the tackle of Rizzuto, evading the close attention of Pirozzi, turning inside Smith, but there was the Ravens enforcer Anika Watson with a crunching tackle to stop the striker in her tracks. Soon after, a soft free-kick from the left was lifted in by Isla Rochaix and Tali Fowler raced on to it to blaze high and wide from close range. A definite let-off for the Ravens, and they took advantage almost immediately.

A bouncing ball was helped forward by Charlotte Douglas. Jones was second best in the foot race with the last defender, but she read the bounce perfectly and motored through on goal. It looked like she would be tackled as she set herself to shoot, but she got the right-foot shot away, the goalkeeper getting a hand to it and turning the ball onto the post, but the pace of the shot took it into the net for the opening goal.

The game was alive now, and Rizzuto found herself in attack again down the left, crossing well to Annika Lee, who battled well to win a corner. Te set-piece saw Jones cross for Lee whose brave header was cleared. The half-time whistle sounded on a terrific first half, with plenty of talking points and the home side holding a slender lead.

The referees kept the players waiting for the second half, and both teams were keeping warm, knocking the ball around while the officials made the long walk back from the sheds. The second half was swiftly underway and Ravens were on the attack towards the construction site and the soon-to-be world-class facilities at Christie Park. Speedster Tahlia Butcher raced onto a loose ball and looked odds on to get a shot in, but she left the ball behind and the chance was gone. Up the other end, a back pass from Pirozzi was coughed up by McCredie, fortunately the shot was wide, and from the goalkick, the Ravens defence needlessly conceded a corner, albeit thankful to the quick thinking of Watson, and that handed the impetus to the visitors. A confident claim by McCredie calmed the nerves and Ravens could take a deep breath.

A miskick by Butcher was snapped up by danger-woman Penitani soon after, sending Hart clear who shot over when well placed. Ravens worked a beautiful opening next, Rice and Butcher with a sublime one-two, and Rizzuto’s shot was just wide with the keeper beaten. The danger was always there though from Penitani, who rampaged through the middle only to be shackled by the impressive Lakic.

A move started from Jas Waters in defence then saw a triangle of passes involving Ella Moar and Rizzuto, with Moar’s cross well fielded by Arabela Penfold in the Sutherland goal. It was end-to-end stuff by now, and again it was Penitani down the right, who darted through and tested McCredie, the Ravens keeper saving well down low. Rochaix then went down the left and teased in a cross which McCredie again saved well.

Some great midfield work by Marli Williams then saw Moar steal the ball and set off on a mazy run down the left, the cross well saved, and Lee then powered down the right before being clipped, a dangerous free kick situation for dead-ball specalist Rizzuto. The cross was cleared though and again it was Penitani, racing on to the long ball, before turning sweetly to shoot wide.

Ravens looked determined to conserve their lead. When Rizzuto lost the ball in midfield, Smith was there to clean up, and when Smith herself coughed up possession, she did well to recover and the deflected cross was fielded by McCredie. The ever-dangerous Penitani then jinked past Butcher, but Pirozzi was there to clear up and with that the final whistle brought the game to an end.

This was an important three points for the Ravens that blows the division wide open. Despite a meagre tally in the goals for column, the even less generous defence has kept Gladesville in touch with the leading pack at the top of the table. For Sutherland, they look on from second place while those below them pick up more points to tee up an exciting run in to the end of the season.

Today was a big performance from the Ravens. Anika Watson was outstanding in her midfield terrier role, and the mean defence kept their third shut-out in a row. A difficult trip to Hills United awaits the Ravens next week, while Sutherland travel to play UNSW. The Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 continues to deliver fabulous football, get excited for more!

Thanks again to Matt and Steve for the bumper crop of quality photos for this one.

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