Ravens rue lapses in late loss

Bulls Academy 2 Gladesville Ravens 1

With the tide turning in their favour, a momentary lapse in concentration proved costly for Gladesville Ravens and a good chance of three points in the Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 instead turned into none as the Bulls broke away to snatch a late winner. An even first half saw the Bulls punish Ravens from a Jessica Forde free kick approaching half time, but a dramatic second-half equaliser from Maya Jones set up a frantic finish, Saskia Burrough racing away to slam home a winner with minutes remaining as the Ravens pressed. A much improved Ravens team showed battling qualities, but they paid the price for gambling the point and taking their eye off the danger at the other end of the field.

A rain-soaked day in the Lower North Shore of Sydney greeted the players as they made their way out on to the synthetic turf and multi-lined markings of Northbridge Oval. Both teams were adapting to life in the top tier of Girls Youth Football, with the home team adapting also to a new name and a change in colours from their famous red and white stripes to that of their South Western Sydney parent club’s franchise. Ravens were out of the blocks quickly winning two corners in quick succession down the right-hand side, Stef Lakic showing her pace from the back and Lara Green making in-roads down the congested wing.

The corners though were ineffectual and it was the Bulls who had the first clear chance, Burrough threading a ball to livewire Emily Francis who laid the ball to Ruby Davies down the left who cut in and fired in a shot just over the bar. Ravens’ goalkeeper Jemma Horley was shaping up for a busy game, coming out well to intercept a long ball and then getting behind a long-range effort from Francis. Burrough then broke through but Abby Duggan was quick to snuff out the danger with a fine block. When Lakic was flattened in a tackle by Burrough, the ball fell invitingly for Davies who fired in another shot that Horley got down very early to save.

There were sub-plots all over the park, Angelina Zaiter and Sarah King enjoying a tight midfield tussle. The next action saw Ravens attack down the right again, Lakic doing brilliantly to get a cross in, which was bundled behind for a corner. Alessia Rizzuto’s corner evaded the pack at the front post and central defender Aurelia Smith could only get the slightest of touches as she raced in to connect. A superb move then saw Alexia Mavraidis stride clear, but the offside flag was up.

The influence of Francis in midfield was becoming apparent, and when Davies raided down the left, Horley didn’t deal with the cross and she was rescued by Ava Pirozzi’s last-ditch clearance to prevent a cheap goal at the far post. The corners continued to be won and wasted by the Ravens, Mavraidis again busy down the right to keep the corner count rising. Some good pressing by Sylvie Karena then led to a rushed clearance by Issabella Coelho in the Bulls goal, and the quick-thinking of Rizzuto sent the ball goalwards immediately, but the connection didn’t carry enough weight to trouble the relieved shot-stopper.

Karena did well to dig out a cross from the right that floated onto the roof of the net, before Rizzuto played in Karena, whose shot was well saved by Coelho for yet another corner. Mavraidis was released by Rizzuto soon after and her shot was deflected just wide, another quality corner swung into the area with no one showing the will to attack the ball. A thrilling moment then saw Sophie Grindlay battle well and slip in a ball for Karena, to cries of offside, and the flag was raised as Karena smashed the ball off the bar from close range. VAR may have been interested in that one, but the woodwork had saved the day anyway for the Bulls. Anna Wroughton brought her combative style to the game, making herself known to her opponents who were unable to get any time on the ball.

A peculiar moment followed as play continued with Rizzuto left tying her lace. When she sprung back into action, she raced into a challenge and was harshly adjudged to have bundled over her opponent, the picky referee not taking any leniency when force was used to win the ball. Up stepped Forde to bend a shot over the wall; Horley had time to take action to push the ball over the bar, but couldn’t make contact and the ball bounced down into the net for the opening goal.

Ravens couldn’t believe it, especially after pushing and winning corners throughout a very good first half. More was to come as Sienna Bell unceremoniously pushed over her player and the referee awarded a second free-kick in the exact same position. It was clear that the Bulls were set to shoot on sight now, and sure enough Forde lifted another glorious shot over the wall. This time Horley got her hand to the ball to push it onto the underside of the bar. The static Ravens defence had let players through to follow up unattended, and as Horley went to ground very early to try and smother the rebound, the ball bounced over her towards the goal and was hacked away, almost an own goal but not quite.

The half ended and Bulls Academy had their tails up. This had been an entertaining first half, Ravens just lacking that creative edge from set pieces, while the Bulls took their chances from theirs and could have been further ahead against the balance of play.

Ravens were under the pump in the opening stages of the second half. Another cross was helped across goal by Burrough as Ravens struggled to get out of their own half, and Horley was unable to stop the ball bouncing tantalisingly across goal, the ball just missing the post. Bell then took the ball and embarked on a searching run into Bulls territory, slipping through Grindlay who was well marshalled by the defence before she could shoot.

Bulls won a corner when Duggan challenged well on Francis, and the resulting corner kick ended on the top of the net with Horley watching carefully. Burrough then sent in another long searching cross from the left, Horley unable to stop the ball bouncing off the post to safety, Ravens living life dangerously on the edge. Francis then took the ball from halfway on an exciting mazy run and fired wide before Ravens finally started to click, with Anika Watson at the start of every move, winning the ball well deep in midfield to instigate the attacks.

Rizzuto teed up a shot that was deflected into the path of Grindlay, who connected with a half volley on the stretch, but Coelho was right behind it. Soon after, the scores were level. Karena drove forward down the left and delivered a ball in towards Jones. The ball eventually fell for the Ravens striker, who showed perfect composure to smash a low shot into the net for 1-1. The game had swung towards the visitors.

Smith survived a possible handball shout in the area as she intercepted a bouncing ball, the referee unmoved, and Sinead Fisher was having the battle of her life up against the hard-running Burrough on the Ravens right. The visitors almost unlocked the Bulls defence with a miskick by Mavraidis that somehow fell for Jones, but the miskick was contagious and the shot skewed wide of the goal. Great work by Green down the left saw Karena run on to a through ball, but she swiped the defender instead of the ball and the Bulls defence regrouped as the unfortunate defender limped off the field. The game was wide open now, either team could win it.

A free kick from Smith saw Pirozzi make headway down the left, but into the corner, before a second free kick was awarded in the same position in front of the technical areas. This time Smith was urged to go forward and Ravens took their eye off defence, leaving a huge gap at the back. Sure enough, when the free kick was lifted in by Isla Giron and cleared, Burrough was straight on to it and had only Fisher to beat. She outpaced the exposed Ravens defender and finished well at the near post, Horley given no chance.

From the kick off, Mavraidis tricked her way to the byline, but her shot from an impossibly acute angle whistled just over the bar and with it went Ravens’ chances of salvaging anything from the game. There was despair at the final whistle for the visiting team, but the Bulls had taken advantage and showed clinical finishing when it mattered.

What a game; played at a good pace, with tough battles being waged between committed players in great spirit. There was nothing between the two teams in terms of possession and chances, and Ravens will look forward to welcoming the Bulls to Christie Park later in the year in an exciting rematch. Ravens go to Bankstown on Tuesday night for the rearranged fixture, searching for their first point of the campaigm, while Bulls have the week to recover before their fixture at Sydney Olympic on Easter Sunday. The fixtures are coming thick and fast. Hold on to your hats as we fly through the 2023 Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 season together and stay tuned for more.

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