Ravens resistance stuns Spartans

Gladesville Ravens 2 Blacktown Spartans 2

Stubborn defence and a heroic goalkeeping display helped Gladesville Ravens to their first home point of the season at Christie Park in the Football NSW NPL Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 on Sunday. Blacktown led twice through goals from Sienna Gahagan and Allyssa Ng-Saad, but an Olimpico from captain Alessia Rizzuto and a deft header from Isla Giron had the Ravens back on level terms, and the game could have easily gone either way. Goalkeeper Jemma Horley was the real star for Gladesville though, bravely putting her body on the line on numerous occasions to keep the Spartans at bay, and the Ravens now have a point on the board at home after a difficult start to the season.

Christie Park was a beautiful setting for a mid-table encounter between two teams who have struggled to make an impression so far this year on the top tier of girls football in NSW. Expectations were high for an exciting game and the pace was unrelenting from the first whistle as the Ravens started the game defending the M2 end. There was less than a minute on the clock when Spartans broke through, Giron beaten to the ball by Billy-Rose Taliai, who advanced on goal, but Horley was out to make a fantastic save, and managed to deflect the follow-up from Gahagan past the post for a corner. This was an early warning for the home side.

With Adrijana Protsran and Talia McDonald forming a strong defensive partnership in front of goalkeeper Chloe Sankey, Ravens would have to work hard to create any sort of threat, and with Spartans’ captain Ava Walker already buzzing around the field, Ravens were fearing a tough game. Sankey almost presented a chance to the Ravens though, clearing the ball straight into Maya Jones, who forced the corner, and Ravens could perhaps sense that there were chinks in the armour of the powerful Blacktown rearguard.

Sophia Grindlay gave the Ravens fans a glimpse of what she could offer, racing on to a ball from Jones, but it was at the other end that another chance fell for the visitors, Gahagan slipping in Tataya Curry-Jones. Horley was quick off her line to foil the lively striker, but couldn’t hold the ball, and Stef Lakic cleared the ball to safety.

Grindlay again worked her way up the left, and was unceremoniously dumped to the floor by a Spartans defender, a free-kick awarded out near the touchline. Anticipation was high as Rizzuto swung in the cross, but it cleared the bar and the chance was gone. A dangerous ball in from the left by Paige Edwards then had Ravens scrambling, a shirt-pull went unpunished from Rizzuto and Ravens appeared to be riding their luck with the referee and with the opponents.

When Gahagan broke free on the right, she was too fast for Aurelia Smith at the back and from a wide angle, arrowed her shot into the right hand corner of the goal to give Spartans a deserved lead, Horley beaten at the near post.

Ravens were straight up the other end from the kick off and Angelina Zaiter was upended giving dead-ball specialist Rizzuto another opportunity to swing in a ball from the left. This time the ball was into a dangerous area and Jones just missed the bouncing ball as it flashed across the back line.

Smith had her pocket picked trying to shield a ball out of play on the left and the cross led to a shot from Curry-Jones that was parried well by Horley and Lakic was there again to lash the ball clear of danger. Ravens were playing a dangerous game.

An injury worry then saw the industrious Anika Watson, who was bossing her midfield role, sent to ground under an inoccuous challenge from her opponent. She was in obvious discomfort and was helped from the field in front of the anxious Ravens bench. Good hassling from Lakic then led to a corner down the left for Ravens, and Rizzuto came across to deliver another telling set-piece. This time she curled the ball invitingly into the six yard box, Sankey tried to reach the ball, but it swirled straight into the net for a goal that Kyra Cooney-Cross would be proud of. Ravens were level, against the run of play, and the Ravens will need to work on their celebrations too, Rizzuto and Alexia Mavraidis tumbling on the floor in a comedy routine.

Sienna Bell was relieved when she coughed up possession to striker Ellie Alexander who advanced, but her shot was well wide. Gahagan played in Alexander again but Horley was off her line in a flash to smother at her feet. Bell was battling hard in midfield, but was smashed in a tackle that saw the referee award another free kick to Ravens. Giron’s long ball though was straight through to the keeper.

The Spartans kept coming; Taliai shot from distance but well wide of Horley’s goal, but Ravens had the ball in the net next, Angie Le Roux adjudged to have tripped her defender before firing past the Sankey, her celebration curtailed as the referee blew for the foul. The half ended as it started, Gahagan racing through with Horley retreating, and in a carbon copy of the Spartans goal, she went for the near post again, this time the ball whistling over the bar. Ravens and Spartans level at the break but the visitors had dominated.

Ravens started the second half brightly, Smith raced up the left to force a corner. The corner led to a second corner, this time on the right, and Rizzuto’s delivery this time found Jones who got to the ball but couldn’t direct it on goal. A shot from way out from Curry-Jones at the other end reminded Ravens which team was in charge.

Jones was fouled by Adrijana Prostran, Rizzuto stepped up to fire the dangerous free kick onto the roof of the net. Curry-Jones was having a frustrating game, caught offside on a number of occasions as the Ravens defence kept their line, but when she was played clean through, the crowd were on their feet. Horley did well to force her wide, Giron made her life difficult as she rounded the Ravens keeper, and the left foot shot somehow screwed wide of the gaping goal and Ravens survived. Gahagan then held off the tackle and fired in a shot that went well past the post, before Ravens had a great chance. A Rizzuto free kick was lifted in to the Spartans penalty area, Abby Duggan got up well and forced the ball down, and in came Mavraidis from a tight angle to fire on goal, Sankey blocking the shot well.

Spartans were still trying to break the Ravens line, and Ng-Saad was just caught offside when Taliai slipped her in. A flurry of corners from the Spartans’ left were ineffectual, Giron doing well to deal with a viciously spinning ball to hook the ball behind. This time the corner dropped for Chevonne Kim at the far post who blazed the ball high and wide.

A fabulous run up the left from Lara Green saw her lift in a ball for Jones to shoot, but the shot was blocked, and Ravens were battling for every ball. Lakic intercepted well to break down a Spartans raid, then Smith was fortunate to escape a booking for a crude challenge on her player. Jones turned majestically on the left to advance past her marker, and shot early, the ball going the wrong side of the post. Lakic was upended presenting another free kick opportunity to Rizzuto, the ball eventually dropping for Le Roux, who outfoxed her defender, but could only drill low into Sankey’s grateful hands.

Ng-Saad broke through, catching Horley as she raced out to block the attack, and Ravens were fortunate that the referee whistled for the foul with the goal unattended. Rizzuto then poked a ball through for Jones who advanced but shot well wide. The game was on a knife-edge.

Spartans then produced the move of the match, from back to front, inch-perfect passes scythed through the Ravens defence, leaving Ng-Saad to cut across Giron and advance on goal. Horley almost got a hand to the close-range shot and punched the floor in frustration as the ball hit the net, Ng-Saad having taken her time to finish well for what could be the winning goal.

The game opened up as Ravens threw caution to the wind, and Spartans could have gone further ahead, Curry-Jones to Alexander then back to Curry-Jones who fired over, then Ng-Saad getting the ball back somehow from Curry-Jones before shooting wildly over. Ravens were clinging on, and when Mavraidis was fouled as she weaved her way across the field, Rizzuto was given a late chance to save the game.

The free-kick from the right was teased into the perfect spot between the onrushing players and the goalkeeper, and Giron was first there to plant a header firmly past Sankey into the net for a dramatic late equaliser. The joy on the faces of the Ravens players told the story, and the Spartans could not believe it.

There was still time for a winner, but a succession of offsides prevented Spartans from making headway, and Le Roux’s running was keeping the Spartans defence busy without producing the clear shooting opportunity she craved. The final whistle was met with hugh applause from around Christie Park. This had been a fabulous contest, and a point was earned by the home side thanks to the quick decision-making of their goalkeeper Jemma Horley and a battling performance from her teammates.

Spartans take on high-flying APIA Leichhardt next week while the Christie Park San Siro hosts the first El Arctico of the league season as Spirit FC host Gladesville Ravens in what should be the perfect curtain-raiser to the A-League women’s grand final later in the afternoon. Football will be the winner.

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