Ravens click in final pre-season run out

Gladesville Ravens 4 Sydney Olympic 0

Gladesville Ravens Girls Youth League Division One Under 16s flexed their muscles ahead of the 2023 season opener with a comprehensive victory over Sydney Olympic at a blazing Christie Park, bringing an end to a tough pre-season. A double from striker Maya Jones, with defender Abby Duggan scoring, and captain Alessia Rizzuto emphatically notching a fourth goal, saw the Ravens finally show strength in the final third after a barren opening to the year. With clean sheets for Jemma Horley and Chloe McCredie, this was a performance that oozed confidence and showed that this team can compete at the top level of girls youth football.

Conditions were becoming extra-warm as the kick-off approached; Olympic lined up with Julia Mallam in goal, with a strong back-line of Karla Almeida-Longo and Jade Robinson, captain Alana Ghany in midfield and Elise Biurra in attack. An early free-kick just inside the Ravens half from Robinson set the tone, the long-range effort bouncing harmlessly through to McCredie. Olympic started brightly, and had the measure of the Ravens in the opening exchanges, but a long ball from Ava Pirozzi gave the hosts a first half-chance, Sylvie Karena racing through but Mallam doing well to clear.

Ravens defender Isla Giron then smashed in a shot from an outrageous distance that gave us a hint of what today was all about, but the threat was always there from the visitors as McCredie’s clearance was charged down and Ravens survived.

Angelina Zaiter then showed quick feet to feed Karena, and when the ball popped out to Lara Green, she took aim with a low volley from outside the area that Mallam smothered well on the stretch. Some trickery from Green on the left with a clever header allowed Karena to lash in a shot that Mallam saved, while at the other end a stray pass from Aurelia Smith was intercepted, the attacker clear of the last defender, but the effort was wild and into the building site behind.

The temperature was rising steadily, the synthetic turf of Christie Park adding ten degrees for the players as the players struggled to maintain the pace. Jones raced on to a searching ball from Stef Lakic and pulled off her new skip trick again, a corner somehow not the result, and Pirozzi galloped the length of the field only to be bundled over as she crossed, the referee right on the spot and shaking his head. When Rizzuto played in Karena who delivered a teasing cross-shot, Jones was on the spot with Mallam who missed the cross altogether, but her defender smashed the ball away under pressure. That was a good time for a drinks break.

Sinead Fisher played in Jones who advanced, but she didn’t catch the shot at all well, before a glorious move involving Alexia Mavraidis, Jones and Karena was pulled up for the most marginal of offsides by the assistant referee. Olympic’s Biurra and Ravens’ Giron were having a great battle, and Talia Butcher was providing additional energy as Ravens started to take control. McCredie did well to race out at Biurra’s feet to clear, and from that clearance Ravens created a wonderful move. Mavraidis and Jones played a one-two up the right, Mavraidis racing down the wing towards goal. She opted to hit the byline and cut the ball back beautifully for Jones to slam a shot into the net from close range, Ravens into the lead and looking good.

Stern words between Ghany and Alexandra Capararo followed as Butcher caused mayhem inside the box, and Ravens had a corner. With the referee being fussy with the first corner, a second attempt was swung in by Rizzuto. Up went Duggan in the challenge and the ball darted towards goal, Mallam unable to keep it out and Duggan was completely unaware that she had scored until she was swamped by her gleeful teammates.

Within seconds Duggan had given the ball away, rescued by McCredie who made a routine save from Eva Buterin’s shot, but Ravens were soon on the attack again, Anika Watson with good work to set up Fisher, whose shot whistled wide. Olympic were really struggling to get the ball out from the back from goal kicks, and Fisher teed up Jones who fired in a shot, and was unlucky not to see the rebound fall her way as the Mallam did well to block.

A shot from Anna Wroughton was then blocked, before a penalty shout was again waved away by the lenient referee as Mavraidis had her feet taken from under her as she raced into the box. Watson was proving to be a great option just outside the box and fired in a shot that was well saved, and Rizzuto opted to play a free-kick short to her midfield colleague who again pulled the trigger from distance and Mallam saved well down low.

The half ended with a half-chance each. First McCredie had to race out of her goal to block with her feet, then Mallam watched as a blocked shot from Jones went past her post and the half-time whistle sounded, an opportunity to get into the shade and take on litres of ice-cold water.

Both teams changed goalkeepers, Horley on for the second half and Abbey Stone on for Olympic, and it was Stone under pressure early on, Samara Chiert misplacing a pass behind. The corner led to nothing, but in the next move we got to see some dazzling skills from the home team. First Wroughton gave us a silky shimmy that took two Olympic players out of the game, then Green faked a pass and sold the nutties to her defender, drawing oohs from beneath the unbrellas of the crowd. Zoe Twining then took aim from distance with a searing shot that was blocked.

A corner for Olympic was then headed on goal by Ghany, but Horley plucked the ball out of the air with confidence and delivered a long clearance upfield. The ball bounced perfectly for Jones, who raced through and fired low into the net past the unfortunate Stone for 3-0.

Olypmic certainly weren’t out of the game, and Ghany fired in a shot from a free kick that Horley got down well to save. Ravens should have scored soon after though, Zaiter played in Green on the charge, who raced clear, but fired her shot straight at the keeper, the follow up from Karena also straight at Stone, who saved again and Olympic were let off the hook.

Jones raced clear again moments later, but opted for the early shot after perhaps running out of legs, Stone fielding the ball comfortably. At the other end, Erica Ciaparra set up Buterin for a shot that Horley saved, and Ghany fired in a free kick that deflected for a corner, the referee giving the players another chance to grab a drink before play continued.

That break almost paid dividends for Olympic, Biurra having two bites at the shot, Horley equal to both, smothering from close range, and when the ball popped out again, Biurra smashed the ball off the bar, the referee blowing for a foul by the bustling striker and Ravens’ goal somehow remained intact. Olympic looked determined to turn the game around. Biurra again shot just wide, the impressive Alisha Maunder dribbled past two players to screw the ball past the post and Buterin tested Horley from distance.

Ravens had plenty of the ball themselves, Smith raiding up the left with Wroughton to keep the ball in the Olympic half, Karena jinked past two defenders to shoot wide. Zaiter then played in Karena with a lovely ball, Stone out quick to foil the Ravens forward with the ball at her feet.

A moment of skill from Jones then gave her the chance to add to her haul, Karena intercepting and Jones juggling the ball over her defender to race away, but again she shot too close to the keeper and the chance went begging.

Horley was again called upon to smother at Biurra’s feet before Karena repeated Jones’ trick and flicked the ball over her defender and raced away, this time the shot was tame and Stone easily saved. There was more hard running from Smith and Wroughton up the left as Ravens tried to exploit the space behind the Olympic wide players, and Rizzuto tried to provide the spark to spur on her team to further goals.

It was perhaps fitting that Rizzuto rounded off the scoring late in the game, a fabulous move in midfield involving Karena and Zaiter saw Rizzuto race away and she provided a lethal striker’s finish low past Stone and inside the left-hand post to give Ravens an unassialable four-goal lead.

The game was brought to an end by the referee and Ravens had given a good account of themselves. On another day, better finishing from Olympic could have seen a closere scoreline; conversely, the number of chances spurned by the Ravens attack was masked by the four goals that they they did score, and there is definitely work to be done to increase the conversion rate – the chances are there.

Pre-season is over. The real season kicks off next Sunday with the visit of powerhouse, the Football Institute of NSW. These are the up and coming stars of NSW football and while they generally play younger players in each age group, they will provide an amazing spectacle for the opening game of the 2023 Girls Youth League Division One season. See you there!

Note : Thanks to Tahlia’s dad Steve for the additional photos today.

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