Central Coast Mariners 2 Gladesville Ravens 1

The favourites for the title in the NPL Girls Youth League Division 2 were made to wait until late in the game to snatch a vital three points and end the visiting team’s glorious unbeaten run. Central Coast Mariners were off to a flying start when Anika Francis was left unattended to slot home for 1-0, but after a half-time rocket from coach Stephen Bott, the Ravens fough back, Alessia Rizzuto finishing low only moments after seeing her penalty saved by Matilda Perrim. The game was in the balance until the very end when star forward Eliza Familton turned beautifully in the box to slide home the winning goal, Gladesville Ravens’ 14-game unbeaten run abruptly halted.

This hastily arranged Saturday fixture caused selection headaches for the Ravens, Ella Moar, Charlotte Douglas and Tahlia Butcher all missing, but there was a welcome return for Annika Lee and also back was Anna Wroughton to give some bite to midfield. The magnificent scene of Pluim Park gave us a damp field, but glorious sunshine on a crisp winter’s day, and it was the home team who took the game by the scruff of the neck right from the start once the referee team had finally arrived. An early shot from Kara Bloomfield almost caught out Ravens’ goalkeeper Chloe McCredie, but she grabbed the ball at the second attempt. It was Francis who had the next chance, a header that saw McCredie dive full length, only for the ball to hit the post and rebound in her favour. Francis was finding space down the right, and it was a free kick from Jasmin Fisher that tested McCredie next, the Ravens shot-stopper saving well but the flag had already gone up.

A free-kick conceded on the Ravens right was then floated in by Sophie Rettalick; the Ravens defence was static as Francis raced onto the ball and coolly slotted the ball home for a simple opening goal. As Ravens struggled to get any posession, Familton’s pace and skill took her down the right and she crossed, defender Aurelia Smith slicing at the ball, but McCredie was quick to pluck the ball out of the air and away from danger. The game was as one-sided as we’d seen all season, next Familton and Alexia Karas combined superbly for the home team down the right, and the cross found Francis whose shot was well saved by McCredie.

Aside from a brief moment where Maya Jones stole a ball in the middle of the Mariners’ half and tried her luck from distance, this was one-way traffic. Familton’s cross was then met by the head of Francis but McCredie was equal to it. Moments later, it was Familton again, this time waltzing through the defence only for McCredie to block brilliantly and keep Ravens in it. Another shot from distance from Jones after some clever pay by Sophie Steele down the right brought some oohs from the watching crowd as the ball just fell past the post, but the visitors’ moments were few and far between.

Familton fed Francis down the right who shot wide, then a long ball found Francis through the middle and again McCredie came out and made herself big, smothering the chance and gathering well. The half ended though with the Ravens on the attack, the busy Angie Le Roux bundling through three challenges to set up Jones, but the shot was high. The half-time whistle gave the visiting Ravens the chance to regroup and dissect a very difficult first half. Coach Bott was quick to make sure the team knew his thoughts, and there was no doubt that Ravens had to step up their game to get anything out of this very good Mariners team.

The central defensive partnership of Fisher and Ella Freeman had been largely untested in the first half, but they were certainly busier as the second half began, Ravens reacting positively to their half-time team talk. Le Roux latched on to a Wroughton through ball to win a first corner, before a long ball from Marli Williams found Jones, whose run took her into the box and she was upended, a slightly dubious penalty awarded. Rizzuto stepped up, but telegraphed her shot and Perrim was happy to palm the ball away, the Mariners defence eventually scrambling the ball out for a corner. Smith found herself still up in attack as the corner was cleared and jinked past her player on the edge of the box to make space for the shot, but the ball sailed wide.

The Mariners made a hash of the goal kick, straight out of play under pressure. Wroughton battled to keep the ball and played it through to Jones. The lay-off to Rizzuto was perfect and she unleashed from the edge of the area, the keeper getting down well and getting a hand to it, but the ball tucked inside the post and the classy midfielder wheeled away in delight.

When Andie Chaseling was played in by Francis, Mariners looked odds-on to regain the lead immediately, but McCredie again made a fine stop. Familton’s run up the right was well marshalled by Jas Waters, so much so that the Mariners’ star was forced to switch flanks and try her luck up the left. A tough call to penalise Williams for handball on the edge of the area gave the Central Coast another opportunity, McCredie down well to save again. The game was on a knife-edge.

Le Roux tried her luck from distance to win a corner, which was floated in; a chaotic sequence of play in the Mariners’ penalty area was eventually cleared up by the all-action Francis. Sophie Retallick tried her luck from a long way out, a deflection almost wrong-footing McCredie, but the offside flag was up. A giveaway by Smith from the goalkick saw Familton advance on goal, but the shot spun off her foot and McCredie was again alert to smother the ball, a big escape for the visitors. Smith was undeterred though and played a defence-splitting through ball to Jones, who could have taken more time but elected to hit the shot first time, the ball rolling agonisingly past the post.

A fine clearance from Annika Lee stemmed the flow of Mariners’ attacks, and Ava Pirozzi appeared wth the ball from a melee of home players to set Rizzuto away down the right, the cross flashing across the face of the goal. Another free kick for the home side was smashed wastefuly into the wall, before Jones, battling as a lone striker in a Mark Viduka role, forced another corner for Ravens after some enterprise from Lee and the busy Jackie Rice.

Familton had her whole box of tricks on display and raced through under pressure from midfield dynamo Anika Watson, McCredie reading the situation well and sprinting off her line to smother at her feet. Time was ticking away and the home side were laying siege to the Ravens defence, and when Sienna Bell was penalised and yellow-carded for a foul on the left, the free-kick was lifted in by Karas. A moment of hesitancy gave Familton the time to pirouette past Smith and tuck the ball past the diving McCredie for a fine finish, evoking memories of Denis Bergkamp at St James’ Park all those years ago.

Chaseling roared up the right with seconds on the clock, and fired in a cross. McCredie could only parry the ball into the feet of the waiting Francis who somehow blazed the ball over the bar from right in front of the open goal for the final moment of the match. What a thriller we had witnessed today, all credit to the Central Coast Mariners for a dominant display, hats off to Chloe McCredie for a terrific display in goal for Gladesville Ravens and to all the players for terrific game of football.

Coach Bott was impressed with the way his team reacted to their hesitant first-half performance, while there was devastation in the visiting dugout, the feeling of defeat to such a late goal a difficult pill to swallow. An injury concern for Stef Lakic saw her receive medical treatment that night after a suspected concussion which may keep her out of the next game.

Both teams turn it around quickly – Mariners travel to St George for a blockbuster on Sunday and Ravens are at Nepean and will look to bounce back quickly to keep heir slim finals chances alive. More NPL GYL Under 15 Div 2 action coming very soon. Stay tuned!

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