Gladesville Ravens 3 UNSW 1

A calamitous second half at Christie Park saw Gladesville Ravens almost step on a banana skin before coming home strongly to take all three points and keep them up with the leaders at the top of the Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2. A penalty squeezed home by captain Alessia Rizzuto was scant reward for a busy first half before Sophie Steele pounced to double the lead in the second half. A long range free kick from Olivia Vecchio brought UNSW back into the game and the visitors pressed, but Ravens notched a third in the closing stages to settle the nerves and could have won by more if not for their former teammate Nikita Hardiman in goal.

A crisp morning gave way to beaming sunshine as the Ravens kicked off against their bogey team, the University of NSW, aiming for a first win since the teams first met last year in Under 14s. Hardiman, once a Gladesville goalkeeper, was again in goal for Uni, and her record against the home team was very impressive. The black and whites were straight on the offensive here though, shooting towards the National Park end, and defenders Annika Wende-Dunstan and Charlie Coelho were immediately under pressure. Two early free kicks, both for fouls on Ella Moar, gave the Uni an early test, Hardiman fielding the first, but the second one was deflected goalwards, only for Hardiman to scrmble the ball dramatically off the line with a last-gasp save. A third free-kick from the right after a handball came to nothing, and Uni could finally get some time on the ball and regroup.

It wasn’t long before Moar raced away down the left and hit a delightful low ball to Jones, who couldn’t sort out her feet in time. She did force the ball towards goal, but Hardiman easily saved. A searching ball from defender Aurelia Smith then found its way to the advancing Jones, who skipped into the area on the right, but her shot was palmed away for a corner from an acute angle. The goal when it came was from the penalty spot; the corner was half-cleared with Smith creating a nuisance, and when Steele lifted the ball past her defender, the arm came out and the referee rather harshly gave a spot kick. Rizzuto looked confident and strode up to fire a low shot just under the despairing dive of Hardiman, the lack of real celebration telling the story of a close call. Ravens were deservedly in the lead, and looking menacing, Jones especially up for the challenge today.

What happened next was truly outrageous. A horror goalkick sold the visitors into all sorts of pressure, Jones clipped the ball in and Wende-Dunstan threw out an arm, recoiling in disbelief when she realised what she’d done. Fortunately the referee completely missed it, the youthful assistant chose not to see it and Hardiman cleared, Jones juggling the clearance before shooting wide. A more vocal appeal from the home team may have given them a second penalty in the space of two minutes, and UNSW had escaped.

A glorious ball from Charlotte Douglas then just ran away from Jones, Hardiman quick off her line, and the resulting distribution saw Douglas intercept again, but she chose not to shoot and the chance disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Some of the one-touch play from the Ravens was very impressive, the midfield showing trust to go backwards when necessary, and the emphasis on keeping the ball moving a testament to the methods of the coaching team. Uni did also try to play their way from the back at every opportunity and whilst it was often hearts-in-mouth stuff, when they breached the tide of Ravens attackers, there was space to be exploited. A sweet turn in the middle of the park by Eva Court and a delightful through ball had Ravens scrambling and an exuberant challenge right on the edge of the area by the powerful Annika Lee gave the visitors a shooting chance from a set-piece. The resulting shot from Hannah Al Koudmani was ushered past the post by Chloe McCredie in the Ravens goal for a corner.

Enterprising play from Lee saw Jones stride on to a loose ball and she unleashed from distance, perhaps a touch of frustration creeping in as the ball rolled harmlessly wide. Lee was again involved, bursting into the area to win a corner, and from the lofted corner, Smith spurned a great opportunity, unmarked in front of goal, to test the keeper. The half ended with some warning shots from the visitors, Sienna Christodolou embarking on a mazy run that took her past two into the area, but Smith blocked the shot. Vecchio then looped in a shot from almost halfway that McCredie easily saved, and the half ended with McCredie going down smartly at the feet of Sophia Mikhail as she raced into the area.

Half-time, and the game beautifully poised for a big second half.

The second half started as the first half did, Ravens were renewed, and Jones linked with Douglas, who laid the ballback to Jones for the shot that was saved. The corner saw Hardiman stay on her line, but she bravely smothered the ball in her area to avert the danger. When Weil-Ruggeri slipped in Maria Ambanavos on the right, the shot was slammed wide when a little composure may have resulted in a goal; Uni were still in this game, and as long as the lead was one goal, it would be nervous for the home team.

Great play by Anika Watson teed up Jones, whose long-range shot was saved, and again some slack distribution presented another chance for Jones who shot wide this time. Jones then played provider and released Marli Williams with a lovely ball down the right and the first-time cross saw Douglas in a race to finish into the unguarded net, alas the defender eased her away from goal. The pace of Stef Lakic was then unleashed, racing down the right to cross, but Hardiman was equal to it. The same recipe up the left had Moar racing into the area, only for the by goalkeeper to save again. Tahlia Butcher had quite the second half, playing upwards of four different positions, and she was surprised to find herself up front for a short while and looked very lively.

Nikita Lee then found space to rampage down the right, beating two players before Ava Pirozzi cleared up. The wily central defender skipped away from a challenge and was then barged off the ball, the referee’s whistle preventing what could have been a flashpoint in a very well-tempered game. Pirozzi was again in the right place to foil Sage Croft as she raced down the right past two players and Uni were getting no change from the miserly defence, Jas Waters enjoying some crafty moments working the ball up the line wth Pirozzi and Moar.

Ravens went up a gear. Douglas and Lee combined to set up a shot from Lakic which was blocked, Lakic and Douglas then set Lee away in a glorious move that was halted by the offside flag, before Ravens found their way past Hardiman at last. A swift ball down the right from Smith sent Jones away, her first-time cross was missed by the visiting keeper and Steele was there to bundle the ball goalwards, and then wheeled away in delight when the desperate goal line clearance failed to stop the ball rolling into the net. Ravens had their second goal and were motoring, Jackie Rice linked wih Rizzuto to tee up Jones for a shot soon after that was well saved. From another shot, a corner saw Smith rise highest, but it was her defensive marker who headed the ball back towards her own goal, Hardiman scurrying to make the save.

When the industrious Sienna Bell was adjudged to have brought down her opponent on the edge of the area, there was a shooting chance. Vecchio strode up and boomed a shot goalwards, over the wall and just under the bar, where McCredie’s hand couldn’t keep the ball from hitting the net and Ravens had finally conceded a goal after a long run of clean sheets. Quite the spectacular goal too. The score now at 2-1, there were nervy moments. Pirozzi was again quickest to clear the danger down the Uni right as the slender lead looked in danger.

Rice intercepted a goalkick and shot on goal, the ball just rolling wide, before Steele romped down the left onto another ill-advised clearance and steamed her way into the box, before a fortuitous touch by the defender saw the ball roll to Jones, and there was only one result from two yards out, the ball swept home for 3-1 and a sigh of relief as the two goal cushion was restored late in the game. There was still time for McCredie to make a smart clearance, Waters completing the task, and the game ended with Ravens on the attack again, Jones shooting at Hardiman when well placed, and then fetching the rebound, jinking along the by-line and ignoring the square ball to drill the ball into the side-netting for the final play of the game.

A valiant effort by the UNSW team here at Christie Park, and they did play good football when they had possession. Ravens though were too strong, and despite being wasteful in front of goal and lacking the killer instinct, this was an important win to keep the momentum going.

Next up for the Ravens is a tricky trip to Marconi Stadium for a game that could be key to unlocking a finals spot at the end of the season. UNSW travel to Mt Druitt next for an intriguing tussle as this marathon 30-game season starts to evolve. Stay tuned for more thrills and spills from the Girls Youth League Division 2 as the future of women’s football in Australia starts to shine through.

Thanks to Steve and Matt for the expert photos.

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