An early afternoon fixture at the edge of the Arctic circle, Christie Park, saw an enjoyable contest between two form teams turn into farce as the predicted heavy rain played havoc and almost contributed to a dramatic comeback for the visitors. For South East Phoenix, the long journey to face Gladesville Ravens saw their improving side almost snatch a point, a wonder save from Lucy Goss denying a late equaliser in a game that was prematurely ended after consultation between referee and assistant. A first half goal from hotshot Maya Jones was followed up with a calm finish by Sophie Steele, but the Nowra-based team hauled themselves back into the game with April Rowley finishing well and the visitors were oh so close to completing the comeback in an even game at the home of North West Sydney Football.
With regular shot-stopper Chloe McCredie unavailable, Lucy Goss stepped into goal as the rain continued to fall in a dark and dreary atmosphere, but the bright opening by the Ravens was good to see, a searching ball by Aurelia Smith down the right giving Jones a first chance to run at her defender. The irrepressible Lillian Skelly, chief tormentor from previous seasons and surely a future W-League player, flexed her muscles early, racing up the right and cutting in, only for Stef Lakic to block the run and Tahlia Butcher completed the clearance.
Ravens continued to press though, and when Jackie Rice rose well to head on a high ball, Jones raced through and smashed a shot wide as Jessica de Wit and Rhianna Duff closed in for the tackle. Jones again found space down the right and tested Lily Heckenberg in the Phoenix goal, but the home team didn’t have it all their own way. Olivia Bugg was making her presence felt up front for the visitors, and when Skelly raced up the left, beating two players, she fizzed in a cross that Rowley just couldn’t reach. Skelly then picked up a ball in the middle of the park and set off on a mazy run, riding two challenges and shooting well wide under pressure from Ava Pirozzi. The conditions by now were wild, a howling wind and driving rain making the going tough for everyone involved.
Ravens continued to look dangerous. Alessia Rizzuto played in Jones who shot wide, the lively Ella Moar was knocked over for a free kick in a dangerous position that Smith lifted in to no avail. Jones then found herself free in the middle of the penalty area as a long ball was played in; the defence stood off but she could only hit the ball straight at her marker and the chance went begging. When Rizzuto missed her challenge, Skelly raced through and shot left-footed, but Goss fielded well. Lakic again had to be strong to thwart a mazy run, and the visiting team looked to capitalise on their possession. It was though a magnificent passage of play that opened up the South East defence. Rizzuto, Moar and Jas Waters played triangles to get out of trouble, and Rizzuto spotted the run of Jones with a glorious ball through. The keeper was committed, the long strides of Jones saw her win the foot race to the ball, and she continued into the box, steadied herself and calmly placed the ball past the last defender into the goal, a superb goal rewarding the Ravens for their patience.
A great run down the right by Rowley took her to the byline and a teasing cross saw Goss leap and claim the cross, Ravens surviving the nervy moments following their goal, and some terrier-like tackling from Anika Watson was needed to keep the South Coast at bay. They soon turned defence into attack though, Waters, Moar and Rizzuto combining beautifully to tee up Moar who crossed first time for Annika Lee, who just couldn’t reach the ball as it swirled past her. The half ended with Ravens still on the attack, Marli Williams racing down the wing and teeing up Rizzuto whose shot was pushed away. A single goal the reward at the break as the referee gave the players some respite from the awful weather.
The second half started with the visitors on the attack, Skelly racing down the left and getting to the byline but she was crowded out by some eager Ravens defence, scrambling to close down the danger. A lovely ball by Steele set Ravens away down the right, Lee winning a corner that came to nothing, and that was when the conditions started to affect the game. Steele’s ball to Sienna Bell held up in the water and the referee looked at it with concern. Lee battled well up front, chasing scraps to eke out a free kick from her defender. Rizzuto curled in a teasing ball that ricocheted off the cross bar; Steele’s header fell for Lee, whose header was clawed away, and there was Steele on the rebound to nonchalently roll the ball into the goal with a cool finish for 2-0 to huge cheers.
When a through ball from Douglas held up in the water and Jones couldn’t dig the ball out to finish, it was starting to become a little farcical. Passes were starting to hold up in the pools of water, and when Smith was caught trying to play the ball out, a hopeful ball out right saw Rowley in acres of space, and despite the advancing Goss bearing down on her, she held her nerve to finish well for 2-1. Nerves were starting to creep in for the Ravens, Smith was forced to sweep up as the Phoenix attacked again, before the moment of the match – Skelly made another trademark run in the middle of the field, her ball looked too hard for Chelsea Edgerton, but the ball stopped dead in a puddle, teed up perfectly for Edgerton to take aim unmarked from ten yards. Her shot was true, but Goss flung herself to her left and palmed the ball away for a corner, a match-winning save and a fabulous moment to lighten the mood.
With the game in the balance, a conference between assistant and referee saw play suspended, and their discussions then involved the two coaches, who eventually agreed that conditions had become unplayable and the final whistle was sounded. Despite some time being left on the clock, the result was awarded to the home team, and the players were quick to vacate the area, the wild conditions continuing unabated.
This was a very important result for the Ravens. They were given a real run for their money in dreadful conditions, the continual threat of Skelly was a joy to watch, but a resolute defence, aided by the expert defensive midfielder Watson, gave the home team the edge in this thrilling encounter.
Gladesville Ravens travel to Blacktown City in the morning and will need to recover quickly, while the South East Phoenix have the second-leg of their double-header in the afternoon at UNSW. Ravens continue their impressive run of results, eleven games unbeaten and they are starting to encroach on the dominant top four. Can they keep this run going? Find out tomorrow!
Thanks to Steve and Matt for rescuing the photos; it would have been slim pickings without their wonderful contribution on a difficult day with the camera.