Nobody said it was easy…

Gladesville Ravens 0 Manly United 5

… no one ever said it would be so hard. Gladesville Ravens’ Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 team found out exactly what they’re up against this season, going down to a second successive home defeat by five goals and starting the season at the wrong end of the ladder. First half goals from Elissa Hariri, Mirabelle Peupion and Eva Morgante had Manly in the box seat, but they were made to work in the second half and only a poacher’s goal from Sahara Carter and a last gasp close-range finish from Caitlin Elphick added to the pain for the home team. The game left Ravens with many puzzles to resolve, and a reluctance to take the game to their opponents made this a comfortable ride for Manly at the home of football, Christie Park.

Today’s match had a number of sub-plots. A Gilbane sister coaching teams from each club, twins Stefanija and Sofija Lakic squaring off against each other and the return of ex-Spirit player Sage Melhem to another of her former clubs. A quick turnaround from an exciting and close Under 15s game saw the Under 16 players enter the field and kick off quickly, following the standard 3-2-1 huddle. Jasmine Crawford and Benita Rossello anchored a strong defence for Manly, with Sofija Lakic on the left in front of goalkeeper Zoe Edwards. The lively Morgante was in midfield with Melhem out on the right.

A cagey opening gave way to a Manly onslaught. Carter teed up Hariri for an early shot from distance that Ravens’ debutant goalkeeper Jemma Horley tipped over. Ava Pirozzi had to be alert to intercept clever moves on the Ravens’ left, and from one interception, Lara Green galloped away down the wing but chose the wrong option, playing the ball straight to a Manly midfielder. Hariri was running the show for the visitors and from her shot from distance, Horley had hearts fluttering, grabbing the ball behind her legs and giving a wry smile as she held the ball tightly. A free kick from the Manly left was fired into the side-netting by Morgante, then a tricky turn by Peupion was marshalled expertly out of play by Abby Duggan for a Ravens goal kick.

It was all Manly, and Morgante was the next to test Horley, who was down early but could only parry, but she was alert to grab the rebound quickly to avert any danger. The breakthrough came courtesy of a corner. Isla Giron did well to halt Carter on the Manly right, and the resulting corner was floated in to a dangerous area. Horley came to punch and was never going to reach it, and Hairiri had a simple close-range header, guiding the ball past Sylvie Karena on the line and punching the air in delight.

Ravens midfield was gifting the ball back to Manly after they had worked so hard to win it. Anika Watson was at her industrious best though, sticking to her player like glue, and making it hard for Manly to build on their lead, but the forward momentum too often broke down and Manly came flooding back. Zara West romped down the Manly left, jinked inside and played a delightful low ball across the penalty area where Peupion connected beautifully to send the ball into the top left hand corner of the goal, Horley given no chance this time. Two goals up and coasting, Manly continued to look for goals.

Peupion fired in a shot that Horley saved well. Beatrice Power raced on to a clever pass by Peupion to fire in another shot. Horley got down to parry the ball, but it fell perfectly for West at the far post. Horley though did enough, and was brave to stop a certain goal and Ravens breathed a sigh of relief. Sophia Grindlay was introduced and immediately made an impact, her dynamic running raising alarm bells

The third goal before half time was simply sublime. Morgante seemed to be going nowhere when she picked up the ball outside the area, but showed quick feet to dart between two players and lash a shot into the net, over Horley who again had no chance. This was a Rolls Royce of a goal, and Ravens had nothing in return. When West powered in a cross-shot after a corner, Charlotte Phillips went close with a header. The introduction of Anna Wroughton for the Ravens brought a different dimension and she showed fight and determination, making the visitors work for possession in defence instead of being left alone as they had been for most of the half. The half-time score was fully justified. Ravens had offered little up front despite plenty of endeavour, and there was work to do by coach Dali McDonald to give the team hope for the second period.

Ravens started the second half brightly. Karena played in Wroughton, who galloped after the ball, but goalkeeper Edwards raced out and cleared. Power then turned past Aurelia Smith and fired across goal, Sienna Bell with the only option to clear back across her own goal, but the ball was bundled behind for a corner. When Phillips arrived at the far post to shoot, the ball rippled the side-netting, most of Christie Park believing it was in, but the shot had gone the wrong side of the post.

Ravens pushed forward. Karena galloped away down the Ravens left and squeezed through a cross under pressure that Edwards saved. Back up at the National Park end, a cross from Jasmine Crawford was pushed away for a corner by Horley. Carter then beat Smith and raced in on goal, but Smith tracked her all the way to get a toe in as she shot and another corner was the only reward.

A moment to forget for Ravens then saw them even further behind. A speculator from outside the box was knocked down by Horley, but as she went to gather the rebound, in came Carter to prod the ball home for four. Horley was adamant that she had her hands on the ball, but the referee waved away her protests and Carter rather apologetically retreated to half way and celebrated with her Manly teammates.

Peupion was running riot now, and raced through to shoot narrowly over the bar. She then played in Rossello whose shot was brilliantly saved by Horley, but the offisde flag would have ruled it out anyway. Stef Lakic was unleashed further up the field for Ravens as they started to creep forward, and a through ball sent her racing through, but the defender came across her and drew the foul. Alessia Rizutto then worked a great opening for Maya Jones, whose shot was well blocked, but the ball spun out to Lakic on the right, who had to take the shot early and steered it just over the bar to ooohs from the stand.

A well-worked move saw Smith launch a ball through the channel for Jones to sprint on to; she teased in a fabulous ball that Green pressured her defender into passing just the wrong side of the post for a corner. The corners today were ineffectual, but at least this time Edwards was forced into action, punching the ball clear under heavy pressure.

An inoccuous accidental handball by Watson was waved play-on by the referee, but Hariri was incensed, and her choice words were rewarded with a ten-minute sin bin, a rare occurence at this level, but a move that gave Ravens hope. Rizzuto played in Bell, whose cross was contested by Edwards and Green, the Ravens winger adjudged to have fouled the Manly keeper and the chance was gone.

Sarah Whelan raced through midfield and was unceremoniously scythed down outside the area for a free kick right on the edge. The shot, evading the rather ramshackle defensive wall, was saved by Horley, but the follow up was tucked home by Caitlin Elphick for the fifth Manly goal. There was only time to kick off before the referee brought this one-sided game to a close, but Ravens were still smiling as the players embraced old friends and family after the final whistle.

This was the proverbial ‘tough day at the office’ for the Ravens today. A choice had definitely been made to stay compact and refrain from pushing forward in the first half, and the result was a comfortable stroll for the Manly defence who were then able to join the attack and overrun the home side. The second half offered more in the way of attacking options for the Ravens, and they will look back on the second period as a much improved performance despite conceding another two cheap goals.

Ravens travel to Northbridge next to take on the Bulls Academy, and will need to be at their sharpest to contain another team that has made the sizeable leap to GYL Division 1. The only way is up. Forza Ravens!

A quick slushie and the car ride home is a peaceful one for the Lakic family

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