Gladesville Ravens kept alive their hopes of a top-four finish and a berth in the finals of the Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 with a slender win against a battling Inter Lions side. A shaky first half from both teams yielded a single strike, Alessia Rizzuto on the spot to drill home from ten yards. The second half was one-way traffic until the Ravens shot themselves in the foot, Roan Linton scoring an opportunistic equaliser, but captain Rizzuto’s late inswinging corner caught out the Inter Lions defence and the Ravens snatched the three points in a grandstand finish.
Gladesville were without defender Stef Lakic following her head injury, but they went into this game with their tails up following last week’s important victory. The visitors boasted a number of ex-Ravens players in their ranks, giving the game an extra edge, and the opening exchanges were as tense as expected from a derby game of this stature.
Juliet Saalmans would be expecting a busy game in goal, but with Alice Calov at the heart of the defence, Lions had the quality to keep the busy Ravens attack quiet. It was the home team though who started the brightest, Sophie Steele picking up where she left off by jinking down the wing to cross into a dangerous position. Ella Moar played in Jones with a neat move, Jones crossing well but the ball hacked clear, and the enterprising play continued with a crisp one-touch move involving Charlotte Douglas, Moar and Rizzuto, with Rizzuto firing wide from long distance.
Linton was looking lively for the Lions, clad in their striking away kit. A slip by Ava Pirozzi then allowed Holly Smith to break free, but her cross was wide. Smith then shot from the edge of the area, Ravens keeper Chloe McCredie conceding the corner, and Inter Lions began to play with confidence. When Rizzuto played a long ball to Jones, there looked to be nothing on, but Jones chased the lost cause and kept the ball in, causing panic in the Inter defence, but the cutback was intercepted. Jackie Rice followed it up with a wild swipe at the ball that connected well, but the ball sailed through to Saalmans.
Linton scuffed her shot when well placed, and Gisele Del Baglivo was hassling well up front for the visitors. Audrey Hunter let rip with a speculative effort from a long way out that McCredie dealt with. Anika Watson was as busy as always in the defensive midfield kingpin role and the game was definitely in the balance, neither side gaining the ascendency.
A dynamic run by Tahlia Butcher down the right saw her win a corner. Rizzuto swung the cross in and Rice connected well with a volley, but the ball was charged down by some scrambling defence. Rizzuto then played in Jones in the channel who took the ball in her stride and fired in a shot that was well handled. Steele then raced down the right again but her inch-prefect cross to Jones couldn’t be helped goalwards.
Butcher somehow managed to keep a ball in down the right and galloped goalwards. She slipped the ball to Jones, who was blocked, the ball falling kindly for Rizzuto. The side-footed effort was well saved by Saalmans and play stopped for a split second as the ball looked to roll out of play for a corner. Jones was on it in a flash, keeping the ball in and laying the ball back for Rizzuto who fired home smartly with a right-foot shot to open the scoring.
Inter reacted immediately, and Smith lashed in a shot that McCredie saved. But it was all Ravens again, Steele winning another corner after a good run. Rizzuto lifted in the corner and the ball fell for Steele on the volley, but the ball flew just over the bar. Moar then fizzed in a great cross for Jones, who tried the spectacular flick on goal. When it didn’t come off, Douglas was there to fire in a shot, Saalmans making a good save to keep the score at 1-0. Moar then played in another good ball that Jones couldn’t quite reach before an unbelievable moment saw the ball lofted in by Rizzuto from the right. Jones couldn’t get to it, the ball bounced over the keeper, and the slightest of touches from Tara Berg took the ball away from Douglas who was a yard out from the open goal, the ball somehow going the wrong side of the post.
Coach Stephen Bott expressed his concern at the break that the Ravens’ performance was not up to the high standards, and he sought a reaction from his players at the start of the second half. The opening exchanges of the second period saw Ravens dominate and play with a renewed vigour that had them on the front foot from the whistle. Moar shot wide from distance as the shoot-on-sight policy was heeded. Rizzuto fired wide when well placed, then unleashed from 30 yards, the shot not troubling Saalmans. Jones joined the shooting party, taking aim from 25 yards as Ravens went for the jugular.
A stunning move started by Jas Waters saw intricate one-touch passing down the left, Rizzuto releasing Moar to slip in Jones who fired just over. The goal kicks were an issue for Inter Lions, the wind starting to play its part, and Rizzuto fired wide after intercepting a mis-placed kick by Saalmans. Steele then tricked her way down the right to fire in an inviting cross that was crying out for a finish, but the ball rolled through harmlessly. Marli Williams then repeated the feat down the left, Annika Lee close to finishing off the dynamic move with Saalmans scrambling. Rice took aim again from distance but there was no power in the effort, before Ravens contrived to let the visitors right back into the game.
A through ball was intercepted by Pirozzi, but she was swiftly tackled. Watson was on the spot to win possession back and central defender Aurelia Smith took the time to roll the ball back to McCredie to complete the clearance. A moment of hesitation as Linton closed in saw the Ravens goalkeeper drill the ball straight at the advancing striker and the ball dropped perfectly for Linton to tuck the ball into the unguarded net for an unexpected equalising goal. Hands were on heads and the inquest continued long after the ball had hit the net. This was a season-defining moment where the home team could either crumble or could go on to show their character and put it right.
The home side turned up the heat immediately. With barely 15 minutes remaining to rescue the game, they bombarded the Inter goal with wave after wave of attack. Lee and Jones combined beautifully with Sienna Bell and her exquisite cross was bundled wide. Great play by Butcher led to a corner which Rizzuto played in and Butcher herself connected with her stomach, the ball flashing wide. Clever play by Moar then teed up Douglas who shot wide, before a glorious chance came the Ravens way. Rizzuto freed Jones who fired in a shot which was well saved. The ball dropped for the incoming Douglas, but she was leaning back under pressure and the ball was blazed over. Heads in hands again. Could this be the one that got away?
Waters and Moar combined again to win a corner soon after as play was camped in the Inter half. The bank of players were ready on the edge of the area to make their runs as Rizzuto stepped up to deliver the corner. Instead of the usual delivery to the edge of the six-yard box, a lofted cross to the near post caught out everyone, and the defender on the post was unable to prevent the ball from crossing the line for a freak goal. Only Rizzuto will be able to tell us if she meant it, but the dubious goals panel will acknowledge that the ball was going in without the touch of the defender on the line. A double for Rizzuto and still some time to grab the hat-trick, and the sight of McCredie up in the opposition half celebrating hard with her teammates was the mark of a united team.
Moments later, Jones turned and fired in a shot that Saalmans saved well with her knees, a corner from Rizzuto just evaded the in-rushing Smith and the game was bubbling furiously. A free kick though on the egde of the area was the last action before the arms went up as the final whistle sounded.
High drama then, Gladesville Ravens making difficult work of what could have been a handsome scoreline, and credit must go to Inter Lions who battled to the very end of the game. Coach Bott remained stoic after the final whistle, knowing that the term ‘winning ugly’ applied very much to this performance. There were flashes of the flowing football that the fans have enjoyed this season, and the wing play was direct and exciting, but the Ravens will need to step it up to keep this run going.
An intriguing match up wth Mt Druitt Town Rangers is next for the black and whites, while Inter Lions can do the Ravens a big favour by keeping Sutherland Shire at bay next Sunday at Major Bay Reserve. The Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 just keeps on delivering. Stay tuned for more.
Thanks to Matt and Steve for the cracking photos. We hope these help preserve the memories of what has been a great season so far.