Mt Druitt Town Rangers 1 Gladesville Ravens 2

Gladesville Ravens kept their finals chances alive in a difficult fixture at Mt Druitt’s Popondetta Park, two goals from in-form striker Maya Jones snatching the victory after a spirited display from the home side. Hannah Sproule’s magnificent first-half equaliser had the scores level at the break, but an early breakthrough in the second half saw Ravens cling to their slender lead and notch another important victory. The run-in to the end of the season is heating up as the Ravens wait to pounce on any slip-ups from those teams around them in this most competitive league table.

A glorious winter’s day greeted the teams as they arrived at the exotically-named Popondetta Park, a marvellous stadium that has been the stage of many top-flight NPL games over the years. The visitors were without forward Jackie Rice, but otherwise there was a clean bill of health; Rangers’ defensive duo of Amelia Wood and Chloe Willis would need to find a way of stopping the Ravens’ fearsome striker Jones. Right from the opening whistle, Gladesville were on the attack, and winger Sienna Bell appeared to have been given licence to run at the defence whenever she got the ball. It was her powerful run up the left that saw her cut inside an power a shot just over the bar as Ravens started brightly.

A misplaced goalkick by Mt Druitt goalkeeper Elizabeth Kwiatkowski was then easily intercepted by Jones, who took a touch and drilled goalwards, but the shot was well saved. A brilliant piece of play by Bell on the left saw her win the ball and power past two defenders. Kwiatkowski raced from her goal and did well to block with her feet. Marli Williams was finding a lot of space up the right for the Ravens, but finding the right pass was proving difficult. The breakthrough came when Tahlia Butcher launched a long ball up field. Willis hesitated and the ball was past her in a flash, Jones straight on to it, and she advanced on goal, drew Kwiatkowski and placed a delicate shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net for the opening goal of the game.

The onslaught continued; Alessia Rizzuto jinked a ball in for Jones who took her shot early, the ball just wide of the post, and Charlotte Douglas was alert to another stray goalkick to play in Jones, but this time the ball was smashed over. When Jones was brought down on the right, Rizzuto lifted in a delightful free-kick; Aurelia Smith made a play at the ball, but it fell for Bell, whose mishit shot looped into the net. The offside flag though had already been raised and the Ravens were denied.

With Andrea Plaatjes pulling the strings in midfield, Mt Druitt finally had some meaningful possession, Aiofe Murdock firing in a shot that Ravens’ goalkeeper Chloe McCredie did well to save. But it was up the other end where most of the action was taking place, Jones turning sweetly on the edge of the area to fire in a shot which Kwiatkowski saved at full stretch. Annika Lee was there at the far post to pick up the loose ball and forced the ball across the open goalmouth but there was no one there to apply the final touch. The same players combined a minute later, Jones’ shot bringing an unorthodox save from Kwiatkowski with her feet, and Lee was on the spot to muscle her way in and finish into the empty net. There was confusion as the referee blew for the foul by the bustling Ravens forward and again the visitors were denied.

The Ravens defence was having a tight game; Jas Waters’ throw-in released Jones and she fired in another shot which was well handled, and play switched to the other end. Ava Pirozzi did well to intercept as a dangerous ball was played through, but Ravens couldn’t clear their lines and Smith was on hand to steer the ball out for a corner. Plaatjes’ initial cross was easily cleared, but she got a second bite, and lifted in the perfect cross for Hannah Sproule to meet with the perfect header, which looped over McCredie into the goal. A fabulous finish, and a real sucker punch to the Ravens who had been in complete command up until that point.

A dangerous pass across her own goal by Emily Hall almost cost a goal as half-time approached, but Mt Druitt survived and the scores were surprisingly locked at 1-1. Would Ravens rue their profligacy in front of goal?

The visitors were fired up as they started the second half, Jones was sent through, her shot blocked, Butcher picked up the loose ball and played in Ella Moar who drilled her shot just wide. A delicious ball from Sophie Steele had the right amount of backspin to find the run of Butcher, but Kwiatkowski was there to close her down. When Steele then fizzed in a cross from the right, Butcher looked odds-on to score, but was put off by the advancing keeper. The ball fell to Moar on the left of the area whose low shot was well saved and the Mt Druitt defence scrambled the ball away for a corner.

Rizzuto then lofted in a looping shot that Kwiatkowski saved, and Jones was there on the follow up, but couldn’t get past the brave keeper. The Rangers shot-stopper was slow to get up and a delay in proceedings stopped Ravens in their tracks while the goalkeeper was given lengthy treatment.

When play resumed, Ravens took some time to regain their rhythm. Jones was fouled on the right, giving Rizzuto another chance to lift in a cross. The set-piece was perfect; Jones read the flight of the ball and steamed in on goal unmarked. She got to the cross with a glancing header and with Kwiatkowski wrong-footed, Jones was left to usher the ball into the goal to give the visitors the lead for the second time.

Butcher was having a ball in her advanced role in attack, and she forced a corner, chasing down a stray ball and giving the Rangers’ defence a torrid time. Rizzuto’s corner was cleared and Jones fired in a shot that was just wide. A tactical switch saw Stef Lakic play in an advanced midfield role, with Angie Le Roux seeing some minutes on the left, and they both offered an extra dimension to what was already a very fluent attacking force.

Mt Druitt then had a spell of possession and Lee was punished for an over-exuberant challenge in a promising position. The shot from Willis just over the wall was on target but was ultimately easy pickings for the composed McCredie. Another free kick, this time Bell using too much force on the left, was floated in and a mad scramble ensued, the impressive Plaatjes seeing her deflected shot just clear the bar as the home team threatened another equaliser.

Moar was finding space down the left and worked an opening to cross for Jones, but the volley was well wide. An intercepted pass from a goal kick then gave the home team a chance, Murdock lifting in a shot that McCredie watched wide. Ravens were playing a dangerous game from their own penalty area, but ultimately weathered the storm thanks to the tenacious tackling and non-stop running of Anika Watson, and they ended the game on the offensive.

A sweeping ball out wide by Bell found Waters racing up the left. Her pace saw her win the foot race and a tidy cross wasn’t far away from Jones. That was the last of the action, and the referee brought an absorbing game to a close.

Gladesville Ravens had peppered the Mt Druitt goal in the first half in a blitz of attacking football. Two disallowed goals and a string of saves by goalkeeper Kwiatkowski kept the home team right in it to the end. No surprises for the name on the scoresheet for the visitors though, two more impressive goals to Maya Jones making the rest of the Girls Youth League sit up and take notice.

Three more regular rounds remain of the 2022 season, although many of the teams have catch-up games to make up after the heavy rain earlier in the year. Mt Druitt Town Rangers can do the Ravens a favour when they play St George next weekend, while the black and whites have their final home game against South Coast Flame. Looking forward to another exciting game from the home of football. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Matt and Steve for their photographic greatness once again.

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