Ravens smashed in seaside blitz

Manly United flexed their muscles at the top of the Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 on Sunday and smashed seven goals without reply against Gladesville Ravens at Cromer Park. Eva Morgante got the scoring underway, and a poacher’s goal from Sarah Whelan had Manly coasting at half time. After weathering a storm at the start of the second half from the visitors, the home team notched two quick goals from Beatrice Power and Pantha Tilsley to stretch the lead. A strong finish then saw Mackenzie Jeffs volley home and Sarah Whelan complete an impressive hat-trick with two glorious goals to inflict the heaviest defeat of Ravens’ season on a picture-perfect day on the coast.

A cold and crisp morning gave way to a warm winter’s day in Cromer, and with Ravens welcoming back Alexia Mavraidis, but with Sinead Fisher out, this would be an intriguing match-up. The first meeting between these two sides at the beginning of the season had seen Ravens come out with an ultra-defensive mindset, but they looked more open to attacking as this fixture got under way and it wasn’t long before the game opened up. Goalkeeper Zoe Edwards was not expecting a busy game, and Tara Banks and Lucy Silk looked full of composure in front of her. The first positive attack from the home team was Sahara Carter’s run down the right, but her low cross into the danger zone was cleared.

The two teams had contrasting tactics, Ravens forced into rushing every move, but there were promising forays down both flanks. Manly on the other hand had time to control and build, and always looked one step ahead of their opponents when they sprung an attack.

Morgante found some space and raced through to win another corner and Manly were starting strongly. The home team snatched an early lead, ten minutes into the game, when they pressed to win possession and the ball was swept out to Jeffs on the right. Lara Green did her best to hold her up, but Jeffs slipped around her and drove in a cross. Whelan took a swing and missed, but the ball fell for Morgante to smash home off the underside of the bar for an emphatic opener.

Manly continued to control the play. Ravens tried to get the ball up the wings but there was no way through. Five minutes later it was 2-0, and a precision ball set Whelan on a run, weaving inside to feed Jasmine Crawford, through on goal. Defender Isla Giron managed to hunt her down but Crawford smashed in a shot that was brilliantly saved by Chloe McCredie in the Ravens goal. The ball dropped at the feet of Whelan, who had kept running, and she slotted home from close range to give the home team an early two-goal lead.

Jeffs and Silk continued to combine down the right to give the Ravens defence a torrid time, and Elissa Hariri was in inspired form in the middle of midfield dictating the play with outstanding vision.

Ravens finally made space in the Manly half when a quickly-taken free kick by Alessia Rizzuto found Stef Lakic on the right. Her pace took her past her defender and she slotted in a dangerous cross. Edwards gathered, but the ball rebounded off her hands and Maya Jones was onto it, the goalkeeper just managing to pick up the ball in time. It was a scare for the home team, and at 2-0 this game was not over.

Abby Duggan’s first touch gave the ball away in the heart of the Ravens half, but she did brilliantly to win the ball back as Ravens looked to steady the ship. Sienna Bell then raced up the right to give the Manly defenders something to think about, but as soon as possession was with the home team, the passing around the back was quick and incisive and defence turned into attack at a moment’s notice.

Morgante drifted in a free-kick from the left that was hacked away following a moment of indecision, then Whelan was set away down the left to fire in a cross that McCredie fumbled, but somehow the Ravens’ defence forced the ball away from goal. Jeffs then played in a cross-field ball for Whelan, but McCredie saved well at her near post. Jeffs raced up the right but Ava Pirozzi was there to clear again. Manly ended the half in complete control. Morgante was fouled on the left and got herself up to fire the free kick just over, then Beatrice Power let fly from way out, the ball sailing high and wide with McCredie watching it all the way. The two goal margin at the break was fully deserved, and Ravens had soaked up the majority of the pressure.

Ravens’ misfiring day seemed to continue from the kick-off of the second half, goalkeeper McCredie losing her voice when rallying her side, but Ravens were immediately on the attack. Bell raced down the right in the opening stages, finding space that had not been evident up until then. Aurelia Smith then advanced and played a long ball over to Angie Le Roux, but the ball sailed through to Edwards. A moment of controversy then formed a cloud over the game and had spectators looking at each other in confusion. The clearance from Edwards was helped back towards goal by Rizzuto. Le Roux was ten yards offside, but there was no flag. Le Roux took the gift and advanced on goal, smashing her shot on target from a difficult angle, but Edwards forced the ball behind. Had that goal stood, we may have had to pack up and go home.

Bell fouled her player on the Manly left; the free kick was hoisted in but McCredie saved well. A great run by Silk was then ended by Duggan, the referee choosing not to award a penalty. Ravens then fashioned a great move. Smith advanced from defence and slipped in Sophia Grindlay down the left. Her defender expected her to cut back for the cross, but she kept going and forced in the ball for Anna Wroughton. She turned and fired in a shot that was blocked as Edwards scrambled back into position and Manly survived. The game was in the balance. The next goal would be important.

Manly wound up the attacks. Hariri played the ball out to Jeffs and Mavraidis had to be quick to force a corner. There looked to be little danger when Beatrice Power turned inside from the Manly left once the corner had been dealt with, but she unleashed a shot that skipped right in front of McCredie and the ball bounced through the Ravens’ keeper and nestled into the corner of the net for a deflating third goal. The visitors’ head of steam evaporated and that goal was damaging. A free-kick from Giron after Grindlay was fouled on the right was wasted, and play went up the other end. Smith raced to deal with an overhit ball down the right, but the Manly winger got lucky, playing the ball off the unfortunate defender for a corner. The corner was lifted in and Tilsley, one of the smaller players on the field, broke free of her defender and somehow got her head to the ball to score the fourth goal. Quite how the Ravens could not find a header to clear was a mystery and as a result the game had now ended as a contest. This would not be a case of who wins, it would be a case of how many.

Clever play by Le Roux won a free kick for the Ravens though, within striking distance. Rizzuto’s free-kick was parried by Edwards, and Giron almost wrong-footed the Manly keeper with an unexpected turn, but the ball was cleared. Wroughton’s strength then set up a chance for Grindlay, but the shot rolled well wide. There was life yet in the visitors.

Manly though looked the most likely to score again. Hariri’s audacious shot from distance into the wind was tipped over by McCredie. Jeffs looked odds on to score, but McCredie did brilliantly to intercept as the Manly winger tried to waltz around her. Giron cleared brilliantly from a corner with a booming header. Morgante then raced through to shoot, McCredie well placed to make the save. Hariri’s run up the left then saw Whelan fire a shot just wide, and Hariri herself fired in two shots, the first perhaps touched wide by McCredie but no corner was given, the second one thankfully straight at the Ravens keeper from distance. This was absolute one-way traffic.

Morgante cut in and fired wide. Whelan raced up the left and fed Morgante whose shot was well saved by McCredie. Whelan then found space up the right to deliver a pinpoint cross to Jeffs who connected with a close-range volley to finally increase the scoreline to 5-0. Jeffs then beat two players but Giron forced the ball away for a corner. A mad scramble from the corner eventually saw McCredie make the save.

The football in the closing stages from the home side was delicious. Morgante fed Jeffs, but she blazed over, the offside flag up anyway, then a flowing move saw a ball played in to Whelan from the left. Pirozzi did her best to slide in and get the ball away, but the composure from the Manly striker was sublime and she dinked the ball over McCredie for 6-0. The nightmare wasn’t over for the Ravens, Jeffs beat two players but her cross was cleared by Lakic. Sylvie Karena did well to shackle Jeffs, conceding a corner. McCredie punched away and Banks blazed over. With the clocking ticking towards the final whistle, a seventh goal came, and it was another brilliant goal, Morgante and Whelan combining with one-touch passing and Whelan racing away to finish past the advancing McCredie.

We had witnessed a footballing masterclass in the final twenty minutes of the game. How different this could have been had Ravens snatched an early goal at the start of the second half to give them impetus. Instead, two quick goals sucked the life out of the Ravens players and they were left punch drunk like a heavyweight boxer at the final whistle. All credit to the home team who showed class and composure throughout, and this could be a warning shot to the rest of the division that Manly United are on the march for the title.

Ravens now have selection issues ahead of a mid-table clash with Bulls Academy at Christie Park, while Manly have a top-of-the-table clash with the Football NSW Institute at Valentine Sports Park, the last match there for a while as the French team move into Valentine Park for the Women’s World Cup.

Look out for more top-quality action from the FNSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 next week. Get to a game. See the stars of tomorrow strut their stuff and support women’s youth football in this most amazing time in Australia.

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