Gladesville Ravens 4 South Coast Flame 0

The Gladesville Ravens juggernaut was unstoppable in the final home game at Christie Park for the 2022 Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 season. South Coast Flame came to the northern suburbs with a game plan, but once captain Alessia Rizzuto rifled in the opener, there was only going to be one winner. A classy finish by top striker Maya Jones had the home team 2-0 up at the break, and she repeated the feat with a thunderous shot in the second half to make it three. A cheeky goal by Annika Lee rounded off a resounding victory as the Ravens kept their faint hopes of a final place alive on another fabulous afternoon in the Sydney suburbs.

With classy defender Jas Waters out, the Ravens reshuffled and looked full of energy as the teams awaited kick off. Amity Longbottom and Abbey Haley in the South Coast Flame back line knew they would be in for a busy afternoon up against a Ravens attack featuring hotshot Jones, but it was the visitors who were off to a quick start in the warm sunshine when midfielder Billie Elliott jinked past her player in the middle of the park and fired in the opening shot of the game.

Haley was dispossessed by Rizzuto on the right of the Flame defence which led to the Ravens first chance, but the opening exchanges were tentative and neither team could make their possession count. A goalkick by South Coast goalkeeper Sophie Bailey was intercepted by Jones and her shot was well saved. Ravens began to enjoy more of the ball – a crunching tackle by Stef Lakic saw her advance with the ball and play in Jones down the right, but the shot was blocked. Again it was Lakic with a clever throw-in that saw Rizzuto find space in the box to fire in a cross that was headed away, Jones just unable to get the rebound as Bailey scrambled.

The visitors’ left back Ebony Winston had quite the task in containing the Ravens; first Jones got a foot in and smashed in a shot that was well saved, then Sophie Steele’s run down the right saw her cross well. The ball was cleared to Rizzuto 25 yards out, who outsmarted her marker, took a touch and unleashed an unstoppable shot that sailed over Bailey and under the crossbar for a terrific opening goal.

The combination of Rizzuto and Jones was starting to tick, and Lakic and Rizzuto were using magical telepathy to conjure up their throw-in routines. When Lakic broke forward, she played the most delicious ball through, over the head of Jones but straight into the path of the rampaging Charlotte Douglas with only Bailey to beat; she took the shot coolly with her first touch but Bailey saved brilliantly down low to deny the Ravens attack.

When the second goal arrived, it was simple, direct and very well executed. Sienna Bell’s persistence up the left saw the ball break for Douglas and her deft flick sent Jones into the box, a carbon copy of the previous chance. This time Jones was clinical, tucking a low shot into the net for 2-0.

Flame had a great chance to grab a lifeline as half time approached, Zali Wallace tricking her way to the byline down the right with a strong run and firing in a cross that found Isabella Alvear unmarked at the far post with goalkeeper Chloe McCredie stranded. Her wild swing though saw the ball flash past her and Ravens escaped with their goal intact.

A corner by Rizzuto from the right up the other end saw central defender Aurelia Smith rise highest and plant a header on goal, but it was straight at Bailey. The final attack of the half was a quick move where Douglas touched the most delicate header into the path of Jones, who galloped away, but her shot was rushed and the ball sailed behind. This had been an entertaining half of football, the home side dominating possession and the scoreboard, but there was always the chance of a breakaway goal that coach Stephen Bott would need to keep in mind in the second half.

The opening exchanges of the second period were impressive, both teams playing good football, intricate triangles straight from the training field, but again it was the home team on the attack, shooting towards the Lane Cove Valley end. Jones turned sweetly to deliver a cross that won a corner early on, before Rizzuto delivered a free kick that Smith swiped at. Jones again won the ball well on the edge of the area and had a low shot saved by Bailey. Ravens were knocking on the door, but they took their foot off the gas for a moment and South Coast Flame were back on the attack. A corner was needlessly conceded and Isabella Elsner found herself free in the box but couldn’t find the finish. Could the visitors turn the game around?

McCredie cleared up at the back for the Ravens and launched a kick up field. Douglas was happy to let the ball bounce and that left her marker flat-footed, Jones off in hot pursuit. She took a touch into the box and unleashed a fierce left-foot shot past Bailey and off the underside of the bar. In scenes reminiscent of England v Germany in the 2010 World Cup, the ball bounced down and back onto the underside of the bar before Bailey grabbed the ball. The referee’s watch didn’t signal the goal, VAR was inconclusive and the assistant was unmoved, Jones denied a clear goal.

There was no time to be upset with the non-decision though. Moments later, Douglas fed Bell and she delivered an inch-perfect ball into Jones. A dip of the shoulder and she ghosted past her defender and struck a glorious shot from the edge of the area past Bailey and into the top right hand corner of the net for a fantastic goal.

Ravens were now firing on all cylinders. Jones ran down the line and crossed for Douglas, who did well to dig out the shot which was saved from close range. Steele rose well to win a header soon after and Jones fired in a shot that was well saved by Bailey. The visitors did rally though and had a good spell of pressure as Ravens switched their personnel around, and Indiana Garvan flicked a through ball into the box which bounced awkwardly past Smith. Garvan was onto it in a flash and her low cross was diverted across the face of the goal by McCredie, time standing still for a moment as Lakic raced to hack the ball away.

A clearance from Rizzuto struck Amaila Harb square in the face, and play was stopped for the dazed South Coast player to receive treatment. A drinks break allowed Ravens to regroup and resettle, but confusion from the drop ball led to a corner which kept them under pressure. McCredie though was confident and took the ball out of the air from the corner to diffuse the situation.

A loose ball was picked up by Rizzuto on the right. She yelled for Jones to make the run into the channel and delivered a defence-splitting pass through. Only problem was that Jones was off the field, but that didn’t stop the powerful Annika Lee from racing on to the ball, outpacing her defender, steadying herself after a slightly heavy touch before poking the ball goalwards. Bailey was wrong-footed and the ball bounced over her as she hit the ground, Lee continuing her run to see the ball into the back of the net for 4-0 with her arms proudly aloft in celebration. The sight of Lee’s teammates mobbing her was a fabulous moment.

Rizzuto then gave us her best Carli Lloyd impersonation with a shot from halfway that wasn’t quite up to the USA star’s legendary World Cup effort. Ravens knew they had won the contest, but to keep a clean sheet would be a bonus. Flame were still up for it. Elsner bundled through two tackles but shot wide under heavy pressure from Ava Pirozzi, then Wallace managed to get through two tackles on goal, but McCredie saved well at her near post.

Anika Watson’s timely interception and through ball to Lee then saw her race clean through on goal, and she did everything right, the low shot to the keeper’s right pushed away, eventually resulting in a Ravens corner. It was a late corner that provided the final good chance of the game too, Rizzuto delivering into the middle of the area, Jackie Rice made a play for the ball but it fell invitingly for Lee, but she couldn’t get any strength in the final touch and Bailey made the clearance.

There was time for some corner-flag antics to see the remaining time out from Rizzuto, and the final whistle brough to an end a fascinating game that will be remembered for two fabulous long-range strikes and some controlled one-touch attacking play from the home side.

Gladesville Ravens remain in the hunt for finals football, but it is out of their hands at this stage. All eyes will be on the South Sydney derby on Friday night as Sutherland take on St George ahead of Ravens’ trip to Camden, but in reality any of the three teams above the Ravens will be looking over their shoulders as the black and white steam train hurtles home at full speed.

South Coast Flame were gallant in defeat today; their next game is against Hills United in midweek, but that could be a difficult fixture for Hills to fulfil in the middle of a busy school week.

Stay tuned for more amazing twists and turns as the GYL Under 15s Division 2 reaches its crescendo.

Thanks to Matt and Steve for their outstanding photography again this week.

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