Gladesville Ravens 4 SD Raiders 0

A top-drawer performance of flowing attacking football underlined Gladesville Ravens’ credentials at Christie Park today as the home team made a statement to the rest of the Girls Youth League Division 2, brushing aside close rivals SD Raiders in a comprehensive four-goal victory. Two quickfire goals from striking sensation Maya Jones had the Ravens in the lead at half-time, and second-half goals from Aurelia Smith and Alessia Rizzuto were just reward for their persistence and perseverence.

The visitors boasted one of the most exciting prospects in the league in Mimi Zumaya, and with captain Carisa Herrera and midfield dynamo Abbie Puckett also ones to watch, this would be an intriguing opening to the game. Ravens were without key defender Ava Pirozzi and midfield kingpin Sienna Bell, both ruled out before the game through illness. Marli Williams played through Jones for the first attack, forcing a corner as Ravens started brightly, but it was up the other end where the first chance came, Puckett connecting after a cross caused confusion, but the ball slammed into her own player. The dynamic combination of Rizzuto and Jones then set the Ravens striker away, but the first time strike was just wide.

A sweet turn by Zumaya then saw her beat three challenges to rifle in a shot that Lucy Goss saved, before Smith was caught out in her own area and Puckett was alive to force a shot that Goss again did well to smother. The opening goal came against the run of play. A beautiful move involving Smith and Tahlia Butcher saw Rizzuto sweep a ball out wide to Sophie Steele. She had little support and ventured infield on the by line, powering in the perfect cross for Jones, who arrived at the right time, connecting sweetly to loop the ball over Jacinta Knight for a stunning opening goal.

Tough battling by Ella Moar on the right saw the ball laid back to Jas Waters, who played a precision ball to Jones. She turned sweetly and beat her marker for pace before lashing the ball past Knight for a quickfire second goal to stun the visitors. This was the return that the Ravens had hoped for from their star striker, and again the service was impeccable.

This was not going to be one-way traffic though, and Zumaya raced away down the left again to lift in a dangerous ball that Goss gratefully pounced upon. When Jones was pole-axed on halfway and Smith lifted in the free kick, Ravens were caught out – again Zumaya raced away down the left and the home team were relieved to see Butcher race across to cut out the danger. Puckett then lined up a shot after a good turn on the edge of the area, but her effort was high and wide, and moments later she wriggled through only to hit the floor, a dubious free kick awarded in her favour on the edge of the area. Zumaya’s delicate free kick was easily fielded by Goss. A carbon copy of the free-kick a minute later saw the same player take the set piece and again Goss was able to smother the shot at the second attempt.

Clever work by Billie Letsios found Jones down the right and her ball in found Charlotte Douglas in space, but the ball wouldn’t sit for her and the danger was cleared. Powerful running by Lacey Wynne down the right saw her beat two Ravens defenders before rifling a shot just wide as the Raiders looked to claw their way back into the game, but Ravens looked the more likely. A fine interception by Douglas saw her take a touch and launch a ball to Jones, who took on her defender and shot just over the bar. Jackie Rice was putting herself about in an all-action display, but it was Marli Williams who tried her luck next from distance, the speculative shot almost bouncing over Knight.

Wynne was looking dangerous for the visitors, and when Orshina Khosho found time to cross, she flung herself at the ball at the far post but couldn’t connect, a thrilling end to an absorbing first half.

Two goals up at the break, coach Stephen Bott was keen to keep things tight coming into an important second half, and the Raiders reshuffled to try and contain the rampant Jones, Aleeza Raza introduced to the backline. A quickly taken free-kick by Rizzuto released Jones down the right who cut in and shot, Knight diving to palm the ball around the post. Jones then carved her way through only for Puckett to appear from nowhere with a last-ditch tackle, and moments later Stef Lakic returned the favour with a meaty challenge on Puckett that saw her catapult into the air.

Jones had the scent for goals, and she opted to shoot early, trying to catch the goalkeeper off her line from 40 yards out. Raiders were still in the game though, and Zumaya raced down the left, winning a corner off the excellent Butcher, and from the corner, the ball fell to Herrera who shot just wide. Steele then found room on the right and jinked past her defender to shoot, but Knight saved again, the corner count increasing to unprecedented numbers. Douglas was the next to try her luck from just over half way with the keeper committed, but the shot was easily saved, and Steele and Aaliyah Arnaout almost came to blows when scuffling for a ball on the sideline as the intensity raised up a notch again.

Letsios barged her way through a number of challenges to win a corner, and Smith rose to meet Rizzuto’s corner, sending the header over. A risky goalkick was intercepted by Rizzuto who forced another save from Knight, another corner. This time Letsios battled for the ball, there was a suspicion of handball, but Smith was there to steer the ball goalwards. The ball hit the post and rolled along the line, hitting the other post before crossing the line for a dramatic third Ravens goal; the central defender had already wheeled away in delight though before the ball had crossed the line.

Letsios and Steele then combined, a shot from the right well saved by Knight at the expense of yet another corner. Aneka Watson was having another outstanding performance, hassling and getting into the faces of the Raiders players, and when she won another ball, Rizzuto launched a long ball to Jones, who steadied herself and lashed in another shot that Knight saved and held on to.

Zumaya then tested the Ravens defence, shooting just past the left hand post and then lining up a shot from distance that Goss saved, but the game was put to bed by that dynamic duo again. Rizzuto played Jones up the right, she managed to get past her defender but was on the byline. She looked up and played the ball back to Rizzuto in space, who shot low and somehow the ball squirmed through the grasp of Knight and into the net for a freak fourth goal.

Another long-range speculator from Zumaya that whistled wide saw play stopped for Waters to receive treatment, eventually being carried off to concerned looks. Jones then had her chance to complete her hat-trick, racing away down the right and cutting past the last defender before getting caught in two minds and Knight raced out to block, collecting the striker’s knee in the process and requiring treatment before play could continue.

There was time for one more chance for Jones who shot inches wide of the post, and Zumaya jinked and swerved her way into the Ravens box in a frantic finish before Zoe Twining and Lakic cleared the danger and the final whistle sounded.

This was an important win for the Ravens, close rivals Raiders undone by the same scoreline that they inflicted on the black and whites in similar monsoonal conditions in the early stages of the season. Coach Stephen Bott was tight-lipped at the final whistle, choosing only to look forward to next week’s key game against another close rival in St George, but he was clearly proud of the way the players had stepped up to today’s challenge.

Gladesville Ravens now sit in a slightly false third spot, leapfrogging the visitors, but having played more games than those around them, and the next two games are key. SD Raiders have a tough trip to Sutherland up next on Friday in a make-up game and the season is shaping up for a fierce run in to its conclusion, with the top seven teams separated by only eight points.

Look out for next week’s fixture at Christie Park. Same time, same place, let’s get the same result! Up the Ravens!

Great photos this week from Matt and Steve. We’re getting spoilt here.

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