A warm welcome to 2023 for Ravens

Gladesville Ravens NPL1 Under 16s made their first appearance of the year in a trial game against two different opponents at Majors Bay on Sunday. Inter Lions and a touring South Melbourne team played two 30-minute halves each in beaming conditions, the hosts wilting in the sun and dispatched for six, while South Melbourne kept the scores level and were unlucky not to steal a win as the temperature continued to rise. A very handy hit-out for this new-look team with preparations well underway for the new season.

The opening period of this three-way game saw South Melbourne dominate over Inter Lions, so Ravens could deduce which of their two short games would present the biggest challenge. The hosts Inter were up first in their change kit of sky blue, and from the opening exchanges, the visitors were in the ascendency. Good work up the left saw debutant Sylvie Karena go close early on, her shot just going wide, before the deadlock was broken. A misdirected goal kick from former Ravens keeper Nikita Hardman saw Monique Lekkas challenge for the ball; the ball popped out for another 50/50 challenge which she won before finishing well to send the back and whites into the lead.

Lekkas was instrumental moments later, playing a teasing ball through for striker Maya Jones, but Hardman was quick to smother the ball at her feet. Jones then turned sharply into the area and fired a shot just past the right-hand post as the Ravens looked to assert their dominance, then midfield star Alessia Rizzuto slid a glorious ball through for Lex Mavraidis who did well to pull back the cross for Karena to head just wide. Ravens were firing on all cylinders and there was little for the defence to do, goalkeeper Chloe McCredie happy to boom a clearance up field with one of her only touches of the game.

A jink inside and an intelligent cross-field pass from Karena then found Jones in space, racing through on goal, and she calmly struck the ball past Hardman in the Inter Lions goal for the second goal of the day. Jones limped off soon after with a knock to the ankle, fortunately it wouldn’t rule her out for the rest of the game. Another unfortunate goal kick straight up the middle of the park was intercepted by Rizzuto and she fed Karena who drilled the ball into the net for 3-0 and the game was already over as a contest.

Rizzuto then started to boss the midfield, a long range effort sent just past the left-hand post, before she stole the ball from a clearance and fired in a shot that Hardman saved. An intricate pirouette on the edge of the area saw Rizzuto shoot on goal again, Hardman this time pushing the ball wide for a corner. From the set-piece, Rizzuto’s corner was hung in the air and Lekkas was given free rein of the penalty area to head down unchallenged into the goal for number four.

With the home team running out of steam in the increasingly hot conditions, Sienna Bell advanced down the left and ghosted past her defender, teeing up Lekkas who fired in a shot from the edge of the area for her hat-trick. It was nothing less than the Ravens deserved, but the home team were the crafting their own downfall; another aimless goal kick up the centre was easily intercepted by Lekkas who embellished her performance with another goal for 6-0.

Another new star, Sophia Grindlay, made a great run up the left and fired in a low shot that flashed across the goal and wide, before Lekkas intercepted yet another stray ball from the back which left her one-on-one with Hardman, but the Inter keeper was right behind the shot to prevent a goal this time. There was time for another new face, Sinead Fisher, to race confidently through the defence to fire in a shot that Harman turned away, before Lekkas smashed in a low shot that was again saved. The final whistle was relief for the home team, and the visiting Ravens had given a good account of themselves in their first mini hit-out of 2023. A sterner contest would come in the next period.

To have South Melbourne in town was a treat; this proud club with a fabulous history has been a big player in the NPL scene in Victoria and to be able to play against a club with similar vision was an important moment for Gladesville Ravens.

There was no room for sentiment though as Ravens went on the offensive, Jones battling well on the edge of the area to tee up Lekkas for a shot that whistled over. More good work from Jones set Mavraidis away down the right but her shot was well saved at the near post. Stef Lakic then played a delightful ball through for Jones who forced the corner and Ravens were looking very lively.

New goalkeeping talent Jemma Horley was called on to clear her lines on two occasions, South Melbourne finally getting into their stride, while at the other end the freedom afforded by Inter in the previous game was nowhere to be seen in this one, Rizzuto’s corners gobbled up by their dominant goalkeeper. When Lekkas played in Mavraidis, the speedy winger’s pace took her into the box, but a heavy touch saw the chance gone, and her challenge on the defender was adjudged to have been a foul when a corner was the obvious result.

South Melbourne showed flashes of what we had seen in the first match-up with Inter. Dynamic midfield Dalton raced through the space in midfield before bundling past Aurelia Smith, but Horley saved well from close-range, the rebound hacked away. Both central defenders were then caught out by a bouncing ball and Isla Giron did well to force the ball back to Horley to clear. The game was in the balance, either team looked capable of snatching a win here.

Ravens countered with a great run by Mavraidis, who took the ball into the area and shot right-footed, the South Melbourne goalkeeper pushing the ball away. A free-kick on the right was lifted in by Rizzuto but was too close to the keeper, and Bell played in Lakic for a run up the right that was unceremoniously stopped for what surely would be a foul, but nothing was given; South Melbourne quickly had the ball up the other end, but the through ball was deemed to have caught the striker offside. The dynamic number 30, Dalton, only having a single name like a Brazlian (because I can’t read her first name on the teamsheet), then dribbled all the way through like a Brazilian, evading two challenges, the ball eventually falling for her in the box to steer into the net, only for the assistant referee’s flag to halt the celebrations for offside.

Smith was then caught out trying to play the ball out from the back, but had the help of Lakic to make the clearance, and the final action of the game came from the Ravens. A corner from the right by Rizzuto was cleared and made its way to Smith, lurking outside the area. She lifted in a ball that was crying out for an assertive run to connect, but the ball bounced harmlessly to safety, and the game was brought to a close by the referee with the scores locked at 0-0.

This had been a stern test for the Ravens, and they have a lot of work to do pre-season to bring themselves up to the standard required to compete in the top level of youth women’s football in NSW. The new faces in the squad all played their part well, and the Ravens go into their debut at the Proctor Cup next weekend in Bathurst with a lot of optimism.

Note : Welcome to the new season and a warm welcome to the new players and the parents. I hope you enjoy these match reports and please share them around so we can build an audience; the photos are a bonus, and if anyone has a camera, feel free to share your best photos for inclusion here. They will be better photos than mine. See you all in Bathurst.

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