Ravens rue missed chances in El Arctico

Spirit FC 2 Gladesville Ravens 0

A first half display that cemented Ravens as a genuine Girls Youth League division 1 team was not enough to earn a result as local rivals Spirit FC turned the screw in the second period to come out on top in this first edition of the Arctic Cirlce derby at Christie Park. A Roan Linton double midway through a tense second half underlined the difference between the two teams, but Ravens looked a more than capable opponent with slick passing and persistent midfield pressure. With one more week until the opening fixture of the 2023 season, there is positivity in the Gladesville Ravens camp and what they can achieve in their first season in the top flight.

Gladesville Ravens came out firing, as if playing with a point to prove after last week’s tough assignment at Northern Tigers, and captain Alessia Rizzuto was straight into the heart of the action to dictate the tempo from midfield. A first chance arrived almost immediately, Lara Green working the line well, Sylvie Karena squeezing in a cross that deflected invitingly into the path of Maya Jones, and she had a clear sight of goal but could only shoot straight at Kiara Fragomeli in the Spirit goal, who blocked well.

Spirit were quick to conjure up their own attack soon after, Emily Visser running on to a through ball to shoot straight at Chloe McCredie, who gathered well down low – two chances for either side in the opening moments, and this could develop into quite the contest.

Isla Giron’s long ball over the top found Jones racing through, but the bounce of the ball ran away from her, Aaliyah Hsieh clearing up the danger, and defender Mikaylea Cochrane was having a busy start containing the Gladesville pressing.

Alexia Mavraidis was having a superb battle with her defender down the Ravens’ right, but it was Jones who had the next opportunity, set free up the right to cut inside, her deflected shot smothered by Fragomeli. Mavraidis then slipped her defender and raced forward; she out-foxed the covering defender to get a cross in from the byline, that Fragomeli again had to watch into the side netting.

Rizzuto slipped a ball through for Jones but Spirit did well to contain the busy striker, as the temperature continued to rise and the hot conditions took their toll. A drinks break was most welcome at the 20-minute mark, both teams unable to find any shade in the height of this glorious sunny day.

Giron’s foul on the edge of the area gave powerful midfielder Juliette Harris the opportunity to lift in a shot that floated just over the bar, nestling in the top of the net with McCredie confidently seeing it over. Spirit then wasted a corner opportunity, the kick floating harmlessly over the byline, then Ravens had a half-chance as Rizzuto played in Karena. She was tackled but Jones won the ball back to set up Rizzuto for the shot that was well blocked by the scrambling Spirit defence. Abby Duggan then picked her moment to advance from the back, skipping through two challenges and continuing her run deep into Spirit territory until the ball was whipped off her toes and she had to scramble back to her defensive position.

Karena romped up the right to fire in an inviting cross that Fragomeli did well to save, and Sophie Grindlay found space up the left, just unable to outpace her defender after an exquisite passing move with Rizzuto involved. Grindlay then teased her defender and raced to the byline, winning a corner. The ball cleared the pack in the centre of the penalty area, Anna Wroughton battled to win the challenge at the far post and rolled a ball in for Aurelia Smith who just couldn’t get to the ball as it was hacked away from her toes by a last-ditch tackle.

Angelina Zaiter was looking very lively in midfield as the first half wore on, but Spirit had a good chance as Sumalee Radzki turned inside and flashed a shot across goal, McCredie affording an athletic leap for the TV cameras as the ball rolled wide.

A superb move up the Ravens left saw Ava Pirozzi and Grindlay combine to play in Jones and her shot was cleared for a corner. Visser then raced through on the break for Spirit to steer a shot just past the post and Harris tried her luck from distance that wasn’t too far wide of the goal.

Sienna Bell sprinted down the right with a direct run to feed Rizzuto, and Jones was pushed to the ground to give Ravens a free kick in a dangerous position on the right edge of the penalty area. Up stepped Rizzuto with the free kick but Fragomeli made the save look easy. Grindlay and Wroughton by now had swapped wings and Spirit had introduced the lively Harper Pell to the right of midfield. The half-time whistle sounded as Rizzuto raced through onto a through ball, but upended her defender, the referee choosing to end the half at that moment.

What an intriguing half of football we had enjoyed, Ravens showing plenty of attacking intent and Spirit only a moment away from a killer move to change the course of the game.

The second half started as the first had started, Green rampaging up the left, her right-foot shot harmlessly wide, but the intent was there. Green again cut inside after good work from Wroughton had given her time to cross, and the deflected ball in was expertly dealt with, headed away from danger by the Spirit defence.

Bell and Visser were set for a great battle on the Spirit left, both players using their shoulders well to maintain possession. Spirit had a great chance when Andrea Plaatjes took aim from the right after a series of passes where none of the strikers wanted to pull the trigger. Her shot went across the face of the goal and Bell did well to clear at the far post.

Linton then turned sweetly and advanced, only to blaze the ball wide when she decided to shoot, and Smith had to be quick to block a cross as the ball squirmed through the Ravens defence on the left and a corner was conceded. Mavraidis gave Ravens an outlet as the pressure started to mount, and her galloping run up the right won a throw-in to allow her team some respite.

Just as Ravens looked to weather the increasing attacks from Spirit, a free kick was conceded by the buzzing Zaiter in a useful position. A sweeping ball into the penalty area wasn’t dealt with by the Ravens defence, goalkeeper Jemma Horley was left exposed and Linton had the freedom of the area and the simple task of smashing the ball home for 1-0.

Ravens responded, Grindlay doing well up the right, but the final ball just wouldn’t come, and Green’s enterprise down the left saw her cross for Jones, but the ball was cleared by the resolute Spirit defence. When a harmless ball through was gathered by Horley, Pell made sure she ran in front of Bell and drew a soft free kick from the referee as she tumbled to the ground. Bell was furious. Up stepped Linton, who ignored the bodies in the area and went for goal, Horley caught out of position as the shot curled driectly into the net for 2-0. It was cruel on Ravens – two set pieces leading to two goals in quick succession, and their endeavours certainly didn’t match the reward, Spirit now in the driving seat and two goals to the good.

Linton continued to torment the Ravens defence, Smith’s ball was intercepted and a shot smashed across the face of the goal, Pell unable to finish. Grindlay did force a corner which was too deep to trouble the Spirit defence, and an excellent passage of play from Sinead Fisher set up Karena for a shot that she forced towards goal from just outside the area, the ball bouncing off the top of the bar to safety. Ravens still had plenty of fight.

After surviving a risky ball across the park by Anika Watson that was intercepted, Gladesville had a good chance when a quick throw-in was played to Mavraidis on the left. She advanced with the defence closing in, but before she could get the shot away a challenge came in that could have been deemed as a penalty on another day, the ball bundled behind, Ravens not even given a corner as the arms went up in disbelief.

Zaiter played in Mavraidis on the right who shot low, Jones a whisker away from getting a vital touch ahead of Fragomeli, then we saw a move straight from the Gladesville Football School handbook as Jones tricked her way past her defender with a cheeky skip and her ferocious shot whistled just over the bar. Sarah Lievano then played in Pell, Ravens defender Bell caught with two players to deal with, and Pell’s shot was brilliantly saved by Horley at full stretch to preserve the two-goal deficit.

There was time for an unbelievable moment as Lievano’s final touch on the turn took a wicked bounce and sneaked past the post with the defence wrong-footed, before the referee brought this absorbing game to a close.

Spirit had deservedly won the game, but Ravens showed so much promise in a display of clever passing and intricate triangles, as well as some much-needed grit in midfield. Coach Dali was impressed by his team’s positive display, but was annoyed to have conceded from two unnecessary set-pieces – plenty to work on as the opening fixture of the 2023 season approaches in two weeks’ time. Up the Ravens!

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