El Arctico hell for plucky Ravens

Spirit FC 2 Gladesville Ravens 1

Derby day in the Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 gave Gladesville Ravens the chance to shine against their closest rivals Spirit FC at the Christie Park San Siro in the north western suburbs of Sydney on Sunday. A tense first half saw both teams hit the woodwork ahead of a see-sawing second half; Maya Jones pounced to give Ravens a shock lead, before Elana Raso and Alicia Leggatt scored with close range goals to steal the points in a rip-roaring finish to the contest. The manner of defeat will sting for the Ravens, the inability to hold on to a lead coming back to haunt the black and whites at a key moment against their biggest foes, but they will be encouraged by the fighting spirit shown by their hardworking team.

Ravens were without influential midfielders Anika Watson and Alessia Rizzuto, and had a new look line-up, Sylvie Karena returning from international duty to rejoin her teammates and bolster the squad. Spirit boasted a solid backline containing Mikaylea Cochrane and Aaliyah Hsieh in front of goalkeeper Kiara Fragomeli. The black and whites were off to a flying start, bossing the early stages until Spirit stepped up a gear and flexed their muscles. Emily Visser fed Roan Linton who smashed in a shot under no pressure which bounced off the crossbar and the warning shot had been fired.

Ravens looked to the channels, Isla Giron feeding Jones over the top but she took one touch too many and the move broke down. Raso had started the game well and won a corner as Ava Pirozzi blocked the cross. The corner was swung in and Stef Lakic did well to shepherd the ball out of danger for a goal kick on the other side. Sienna Bell was stepping up in midfield and playing the role of enforcer with strength and commitment.

Raso again broke down the right but her cross was into the side netting, and Ravens conjured up a good move down the same side, Alexia Mavraidis combining well with Aurelia Smith to send the ball into a dangerous area before being cleared. Pocket rocket Victoria Andis then fed Raso who smashed a shot off the bar again. The ball came down and hit a Spirit player before Chloe McCredie pounced and grabbed the ball away from the incoming attackers. Ravens defender Lara Green then chopped down Sarah Lievano to give Spirit a free kick in range on the left. Visser stepped up and connected well, but McCredie was there to smother the ball and Ravens survived.

A cross by Smith left Jones in a tussle with Fragomeli that the Spirit goalkeeper did well to judge, and a similar lofted pass by Karena tested Fragomeli, who again dealt with the danger comfortably. Ravens were probing, and when Jones raced on to a long ball, she opened fire with a searing shot that Fragomeli stretched and tipped onto the bar, the crowd coming to life at that thrilling effort. Angelina Zaiter danced into the area and was unlucky to take an extra touch that stopped her getting the shot away. Karena beat her player on the byline and crossed but the ball was behind, and this period of sustained pressure gave Ravens belief that they could get something out of this difficult fixture.

Pirozzi was fortunate not to get caught in possession and was quick to concede the corner to avert any danger. The corner flashed across the face of the goal, deflected out for another corner on the other side, and Spirit could see something coming from a set piece. The series of corners was broken when Cochrane headed well over the bar at the far post.

At the other end, Jones stole the ball from her defender and advanced, firing wide with a left foot shot from distance, but Spirit continued to press. Youngster Louella Goodsir got away from Green, but she tracked back well to poke the ball out for a corner. Again the corner was too long, Ravens dealing with it easily. Raso then hassled Ravens into a corner on the right, and once more Visser lifted the ball past the far post and out of danger. Goodsir then played in Lievano whose shot was well saved by McCredie. Ravens ended the half on the attack, Giron to Jones down the right who crossed for Mavraidis, but she couldn’t get anywhere near the ball as the defence closed in to clear. Mavraidis then raced on to a great ball from Lakic, but she couldn’t hook her foot around the ball to get an effective cross in.

Goalless at the break, Spirit hitting the woodwork twice to Ravens’ once. The game was finely poised for an entertaining second half.

The half-time break was extended, the referees making the long walk to the sheds, while the players remained in situ, and the players were all ready to go before the officials finally made their way back. Ravens were straight on the attack towards the national park end, Lakic and Mavraidis combining, and a foul giving Lakic the chance to test the defence. Her long-range shot ended up on the roof of the net, and it wasn’t far away from testing Fragomeli.

Raso was causing all sorts of issues down the right, but it was a stray clearance from McCredie that presented the first chance of the half to the hosts, Maddie Tannous touching the ball inside, but the offside flag was up early. A push by Zaiter gave Spirit a chance for Raso to get the ball into the danger zone, but a handball denied the attacker a chance to shoot.

Mavraidis then closed down the Spirit defence as Fragomeli rolled the ball out, and she took aim with a pot shot from a long way out that the Spirit goalkeeper was glad to smother.

A searching run from Tannous then left a number of Ravens players in her wake, but McCredie was equal to the shot from the edge of the area. Tricky Ravens winger Angie Le Roux then darted down the right to cross, Mavraidis just unable to connect. Zaiter then played in Mavraidis to take a shot from outside the area as Ravens pressed. Fragomeli was deceived by the bounce and pushed the ball away, Jones straight on the scene to touch the ball around the Spirit keeper and roll the ball into the net. Ravens in the lead, and the players swarmed around their ace goalscorer in celebration at an unexpected goal.

A miscued clearance by McCredie then presented Raso with a free hit from thirty yards, her instant shot seeing the Ravens goalkeeper dive acrobatically, full stretch, but the ball dropped wide of the goal. Linton then bundled through three tackles to win a free kick in a dangerous position on the right. Visser stepped up and floated in a shot that bounced off the bar, the third time now that Spirit had hit the woodwork. It wasn’t long before the scores were level though, a swift and incisive break up the left saw Brigette White race into space and fire in a teasing cross that McCredie had to get her hand to, the ball falling perfectly for Raso to tap home the rebound under pressure from Sinead Fisher. It was cruel on the Ravens, and for McCredie who had committed to reaching the cross.

Ravens had lost their shape and it was Spirit who were in command. Karena brought down her opponent for a free kick centrally, and then Zaiter tugged her player to give Spirit another chance from a set piece. Andrea Plaatjes took the kick but McCredie was there to clear up. Her long clearance then set Jones away over the top, and she raced through but couldn’t control the ball to get a shot in.

The game could go either way at this stage. Ravens could sense their chance, Mavraidis slotted a pass to Karena who couldn’t get a shot away, Green hoisted a ball in that was cleared, Pirozzi advancing and firing just wide from distance. Zaiter then hassled her opponent into submission and Karena dug out a shot which was easily fielded by Fragomeli. Jones then battled for scraps and Spirit coughed up a corner. Mavraidis took the corner but sent it straight behind.

At the other end Raso teased out a corner from Lakic, Visser’s corner kick bouncing in the penalty area as McCredie dived bravely to smother the ball. There was confusion as the ball pinged around the penalty area before McCredie grabbed the ball, but the referee had blown for the foul already and Ravens breathed a sigh of relief.

The game was reaching its crescendo. Green did brilliantly to set Jones away down the right and she took on her player and fired in a shot that was tipped over by Fragomeli. The corner from Mavraidis was headed away which eventually led to Raso winning a corner at the other end, Giron clearing after the tricky winger had threatened to bundle through on goal. The corner was whipped low in to the six yard box by Visser, McCredie went down to block, but the ball squirmed through her grasp and there was Leggatt, under pressure on the line, to turn the ball into the empty net for the winning goal.

There was time for a late free kick as Karena was shoved in the back receiving a throw in, and the Ravens players all piled into the penalty area, Ravens leaving no one back for this last throw of the dice. Alas a shot wasn’t the right choice as Lakic sent the ball over the bar with the penalty area crowded with players, and the referee brought an intriguing game to a close, the Spirit players knowing how fortunate they had been to profit from the unlucky McCredie’s late slip.

Ravens can look back on this game with a lot of pride. Sienna Bell was magnificent in her midfield role, Mavraidis looked lively throughout. McCredie dominated her penalty area and the return of Karena gave the Ravens some extra bite in the middle of the park. Spirit travel to play the Emerging Jets next weekend while Ravens host Sydney Olympic, sitting one point behind them in the table. They will need to be more ruthless and keep their heads if they are to get a result against a difficult opponent.

* Thanks for reading. There is no team sheet available yet for the game – if there are any names that are incorrect for Spirit players, or any other aspects that feel more like fiction than fact, feel free to contact me. I hope you’re enjoying these weekly wraps of the action. I certainly am.

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