The Girls Youth League Under 15 Division 2 season came to a close on Sunday, and South East Phoenix put Gladesville Ravens in their place with a come-from-behind victory in South Nowra. A goal after 90 seconds from Charlotte Douglas had the visitors in command, and they could have extended their lead in a first half that was free-flowing and very even. A second half turnaround though saw the hosts equalise through Lily Heckenburg with a header from a corner, and the unfortunate Ava Pirozzi deflected a dangerous cross into her own goal for the winner after April Rowley fizzed in a teasing ball. This was a game that meant nothing to either side, but a spirited performance from Phoenix gave Chloe McCredie in the Ravens goal her busiest game of the season.
The visitors came into this game on a winning streak, but without Marli Williams and Sophie Steele, they would need to dig deep against South East Phoenix on a very soft field following a night’s heavy rain. Captain Millie White lined up in goal for the hosts, and with livewire Lillian Skelly playing a free role, the home team had an exciting look about them. When Skelly teased a through ball through which McCredie smothered, the scene was set, but with their first attack of the game, Ravens struck. Stef Lakic battled well on the right and fed the ball up the line for Maya Jones to sprint on to. Her expert cross was inch perfect for the in-rushing Douglas, who connected with her chest to direct the ball into the net with a terrific finish.
What a start for the Ravens then, and they were in the groove. Alessia Rizzuto played a ball in to Lakic, who was again rampaging down the right to win a corner, before Sienna Bell played a fabulous ball for Tahlia Butcher to mow down her defender for speed, but White came out and cleared off the knees of Butcher for a goal kick. A sloppy goalkick by the Ravens then nearly cost them, McCredie’s ball bouncing on the uneven surface and Aurelia Smith’s clearance was charged down. Luckliy McCredie was there to pounce on the cross and danger was averted.
Skelly was the instigator of every set-piece for the home team, as we have become accustomed to over the years, and a handball on the edge of the area saw a free kick lofted over the wall, but thankfully over the bar. The dynamic Rowley then raced down the right to fire in a great cross that McCredie saved, and Phoenix were in command.
Ravens though kept the pressure on, and when Douglas closed down a short goal kick routine, Rizzuto was there to fire in a shot that was just over the bar. Jones unleashed a shot from distance that was again well saved by the agile White, and the game was becoming a tale of two goalkeepers. Bell and Tanishi Reddy were having a ding-dong battle too, Bell doing well to play in Jones, who advanced, beat her player and fired in a shot that was well saved again.
When Rizzuto lost the ball close to her goal, Pirozzi was there to clear up well, but the impetus was with the home team. Skelly played in Kara Heckinburg down the right whose excellent cross was hacked away by McCredie. Skelly then fired in a fine left foot shot which McCredie was right behind, and a series of dangerous free kicks awarded by the generous referee caused flutters every time Skelly delivered one of her trademark teasing crosses.
Jackie Rice showed composure to beat her player in the middle of the park and released Ella Moar, who shot, but White saved, then Jones did all the hard work to come away with the ball from a scuffle, and she fired in a shot just over the bar from a long way out. When Annika Lee fed Jones, she outmuscled her defender and bore down on goal, but the stinging shot was well saved down low by White for a corner.
South East Phoenix finished the half on a high. Skelly to Kara Heckenburg was the key move, but Pirrozi was strong, mopping up in the sweeper role. Another soft free kick was fed in, McCredie fielding well, before a great chance fell to the home team. Bell beat two players and looked set to continue her rampaging run upfield but slipped over, Skelly onto it in a flash and she advanced, firing in a stinging shot that McCredie got to, deflecting the ball wide for a corner. The rare sight of a defensive substitition at a corner then caused a stir, but the Ravens stayed firm and held the game until half time with the one goal advantage.
Half time was an opportunity to regroup; the game was dead even, with Ravens having the clearer chances, but Phoenix knocking on the door with some long-range shooting, and they were getting closer and closer. The second half started as it left off, a low shot touched wide by McCredie at the near post for a corner. Reddy fired in a shot that McCredie saved, then Rowley’s clever move outfoxed Smith and McCredie was there to save again.
A rare foray up the other end saw Rizzuto feed Lee, her cross fell for Rice, who did very well to get a shot away, the ball only just over the bar. Giorjet Pinkard was having a fabulous game on the left for the home team, and she started the move that saw Rowley smash in a cross that McCredie intercepted with players queueing up at the far post.
The industrious Anika Watson was penalised for a harsh handball on the edge of the area, which Rachel Jervis fired in, McCredie again equal to it. Ravens were hemmed in, but did manage a corner that Rizzuto lifted in and Lee just couldn’t direct on goal.
A great run by Lily Heckenburg yielded a corner on the right for the home side. Set piece specialist Skelly swung in the corner, Heckenburg connected beautifully with her head and the ball sailed over McCredie into the net for 1-1, the hosts more than worthy of the equalising goal. Ravens needed to react. Jas Waters played a ball inside to Jones, who twisted and turned and shot just wide of White’s goal, then Lakic raced on to a ball down the right and fired in a cross that was well dealt with by the expert handling of the Phoenix goalkeeper.
The game could go either way, but when the next goal came, it was not without controversy. Smith was turned inside out by Rowley on the byline, but the ball appeared to have gone out of play, the flag raised by the assistant. Play continued, the ball was fired in and Pirozzi couldn’t react quickly enough and nudged the ball past McCredie for a second Phoenix goal, the flag having gone down and the goal stood. It was nothing less than the home team deserved though; they were making the dynamic runs, they were playing with verve and imagination, while the Ravens seemed to have let their mojo slip on this final day of the season.
Could the visitors get back into the game? Lakic raced down the left and crossed, Jones getting in a shot that was saved. Bell was upended and a free kick was lifted in by Rizzuto, before a quite glorious move saw Lakic touch a high ball around her player with her chest and race around the other side to continue the run. That gave the watching Ravens fans a moment to behold. It was almost Pelé-like, alas the break was closed down and the ball cleared.
Lakic then crossed again, Jones only getting the slightest touch, Douglas unable to get onto the deflected cross before White came out to pounce. Skelly was still looking the most likely to produce a telling ball, and she fed Rowley who was brought down by the bustling Bell. Skelly’s free kick flashed across the face of the goal, begging for a finish. Butcher and Rizzuto both got into promising positions as time ticked towards the end, and a great ball from Smith to Jones saw perhaps a final corner to test White in the Phoenix goal. Alas two bites at the cross by Rizzuto led to nothing and the home team raced up the other end, Skelly racing through to shoot, but McCredie saved.
Time was almost up when Waters fed Butcher to win a corner, and there was just enough time for Jones to connect, and Butcher had a split-second to react, poking the ball straight to White and with it, the whistle sounded and the spoils had gone to South East Phoenix, 2-1 the final score.
Despite the result, this was a great way to end the season. An away trip, an overnight stay, team bonding and a lot of love for how well the club as a whole has gone this season. Coach Stephen Bott was glowing in his extended post-match talk; Ravens knew they had been fortunate today to only lose by one goal, but in the context of a brilliant season, the result today was of little consequence.
The realisation that the longest ever season that any of these players has played has now ended is yet to sink in. A fifth place finish with a huge number of wins and a very mean defence gives the Ravens hope for next season when this team steps up an age group and steps up a division to join the elite in the Girls Youth League Under 16 Division One.
Thanks for reading this website every week over the course of this marathon season, and please come back any time to relive some of the best moments and check names that could one day be gracing the A-League Women’s competition. If anyone is on social media, please share this website URL and invite your online football community to check it out.
Thanks as always to Matt and Steve for their super action shots. We’ve captured a lot of good moments, and missed even more. See you all next season!