Ravens’ pockets picked by Bulls

The Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 gave us an intriguing game at the home of football Christie Park as the Bulls Academy snatched a late goal to turn the result on its head, Gladesville Ravens beaten desite leading the way in the first half. A clever finish from Angelina Zaiter had Ravens in the lead in the first period, but the Bulls were level when a corner was poked home by the unmarked Lucy Henry. A classic mid-table battle was then settled when the Ravens afforded Sabine Lozina all the space in the world to convert a cross with a low finish, completing the comeback for the visitors in dramatic fashion and stretching the gap between 9th and 10th in the table to a massive 10 points.

Another delightful winter morning greeted the players, the bumper crowd unsure whether or not a thick coat or a light t-shirt was appropriate, and Christie Park’s main field was shimmering in the brilliant sunshine. The first weekend of school holidays, despite the long-held belief that footballers should only take holidays in October, saw a number of players missing for both teams, Ravens decimated up front with strikers Sylvie Karena and Maya Jones absent, joining Ava Pirozzi and Sinead Fisher on the list of absentees. What an opportunity then for other players to step up and shine, and there were four eager under 15s players named in coach Dali McDonald’s youthful squad.

The teams changed ends for kick-off, mind games at play, and the Bulls opened the game full of energy. Eadie Picard was full of running down the right wing, but it was the Ravens who got the first sniff of a chance when Angelina Zaiter almost closed down goalkeeper Isabella Coelho who had dwelled too long on the ball. The threat from the Bulls’ left was always going to be the dangerous Saskia Burrough, and she fired in a left foot shot on the run that sailed over.

There was early concern as Alexia Mavraidis went in late on her player in the penalty area to concede a free-kick; luckily there was no damage despite a lengthy delay as she took gingerly to her feet. Stef Lakic raced for the byline down the right to win a corner. The dangerous ball in from Alessia Rizzuto was cleared only to Zaiter, whose shot screwed off her boot and ended up at the feet of Rizzuto again who kept the pressure on by winning another corner.

Despina Vasiliadis was busy in the middle of midfield for the visitors, but she was an onlooker as Henry released Burrough down the left, but her shot was wide of the far post. The Ravens were hemmed in. Burrough lifted in a long cross from the left but there were no takers. Abby Duggan was unlucky to concede a corner with Picard in attendance, but the corner was comfortably cleared. Burrough was having trouble with the high Ravens line, consistently offside and becoming frustrated.

Just as the Bulls were getting a foothold, the complexion of the game changed. Rizzuto picked up a loose ball and sent Mavraidis through for a foot race with the last defender. The ball was helped back to Coelho, whose clearance was deflected by the outstretched foot of Mavraidis, into the path of Zaiter. There was not a moment’s hesitation as the classy midfielder lifted the ball out of the reach of Coelho and into the empty goal, a cool calm finish to give the Ravens the lead.

Ravens kept the momentum going; Lakic raced up the right, but the cross was out of play. The Bulls responded; Burrough raced down the left again and lifted in a cross-shot that goalkeeper Jemma Horley pushed up in the air before catching on the way down, an unconventional yet effective save. Burrough was then through as Aurelia Smith decided to leave a through ball, but the offside flag again was raised and the Bulls winger was getting angry with herself.

Just as Ravens had done earlier, they soaked up the pressure and broke unexpectedly. This time Smith boomed a long clearance over the top for Angie Le Roux to chase. Sarah King’s header back to Coelho was too short and Le Roux was in the clear. Coelho bore down on her and the Ravens’ striker’s shot brushed agonisingly past the left-hand post. A glorious chance to take a commanding lead, and totally against the run of play.

Ravens then survived a penalty shout when Duggan went in strongly on her defender in the box, Sabine Lozina then hit a long-range effort that swerved and forced an acrobatic flying save out of Horley to push the ball around the post for a corner. When the corner was hoisted into the six-yard box, Horley undid her good work with an unconvincing punch and the ball fell to the unmarked Henry at the far post who slotted the ball into the empty net from close range for the equalising goal. The space given to the Bulls players in the penalty area was outrageous, and we would see that again later in the game.

Ravens were then completely hemmed in. Goalkicks were being closed down, passes weren’t finding feet and finding touch was the only option to keep the Bulls from powering ahead. Ravens were scrapping, but it got a little too much when first Zaiter pushed her player and then Sienna Bell flattened her opponent with a crude challenge after the ball had gone, earning herself a yellow card.

The pogo-ing defensive wall did its job, Jessica Forde firing over the bar, Olivia Cole raced up the right and hoisted a cross over the bar, before Burrough was once again caught offside. Ravens then had two free-kicks in dangerous territory that led to nothing, before a peculiar moment saw Coelho launch an enormous through ball down the centre; Isla Giron seemed to lose track of the bouncing ball and eventually hauled down her player on the edge of the box, fortunate that there was cover or the card could have been red instead of the yellow she received.

Again the pogo wall did it’s job, Cole firing horribly over the bar. Giron was unlucky to be penalised for another freekick out near the corner flag as the Bulls finished the half in attack, but again the free kick was floated aimlessly across goal as the half-time whistle sounded. This had been a see-sawing encounter, the Bulls dominating for large parts of the first half, but the Ravens could have been two goals up at one point.

The Ravens were out early for the second half, and stood like statues waiting for the Bulls to appear; memories of Central Coast Mariners away last season served as an omen of what was to come. Tahlia Butcher’s attempted clearance fell to Henry as the half got underway, but her shot was easily gathered by Horley. Lakic was then involved at the other end, firing in a long-range shot that Coelho saved. This was going to be an exciting half.

Cole then raced away to shoot high and wide, then livewire Emily Francis released Olivia Vecchio, but Duggan was across swiftly to force a goal kick. Horley gave us a nervous moment, pausing with the ball at her feet to suck in the attacker before releasing at the last second. Ravens then attacked, Rizzuto and Butcher combining up the left, and Rizzuto’s lobbed shot was dealt with comfortably by Coelho.

The game was flowing from end to end. Francis threatened to break clear, but Zoe Twining was there to clear. Ruby Davies fired in a shot that Horley easily saved. Lakic was finding room up the Ravens right, and forced Coelho out of her box to clear for a throw-in. That was upgraded to a corner as Lakic persisted. The corner was punched away and Francis almost wriggled clear on goal. The game was in the balance.

Mavraidis closed down Coelho well, forcing her out of her box again to clear, before Francis and Davies combined neatly but the ball was ushered out for a goal kick. Mavraidis was fouled on halfway; Rizzuto lifted in the free kick, which found its way back to Rizzuto. The Ravens’ captain shot, but Coelho was equal to it.

The Bulls were throwing caution to the wind now, and Duggan had to be brave to block a shot right in front of goal. Burrough, who had been nursing an injury following a heavy knock in the first half, was then marshalled well by Duggan, forcing a corner. The corner found Ravens in disarray at the back again, Picard was unmarked, but Francis took the ball off her toes to fire just wide. Duggan again was too fast for Burrough and she seemed to have got the better of her opponent.

Ravens then had the chance that they were craving; Sophia Grindlay and Rizzuto battled to win the ball and Rizzuto’s pass over the top was perfect for Le Roux to race on to. She outstripped the last defender, Coelho advanced to force her wide of the gaping goal, and the chance had seeemingly gone. There was still life in the attack when Rizzuto played in a cross, but Lara Green’s audacious volley sailed high over the bar.

And then came the sucker-punch. Duggan closed down Burrough on the left, but the powerful winger kept the ball alive and fashioned room for a cross. The Ravens defence inexplicably left Green with three players to mark, and when the cross eventually made it to the penalty area, Lozina was completely free at the near post to tuck the ball low past Horley into the net for 2-1. Ravens were deflated, Bulls couldn’t believe their luck.

Ravens attacked with little conviction in the closing moments, Bell doing well down the right to get a cross in, but some expert time management from the visitors ate up the final moments, and Le Roux picked up the third yellow card of the game for a hearty shove on her defender as the clock ran out. Final score, Gladesville Ravens 1 Bulls Academy 2.

The Ravens can look back on the two goals conceded and have to learn from them – inexplicably absent marking was the key – but there were patches in the game, especially in the first half, when Ravens played some superb flowing football and looked good value for their lead. Next up is a trip to league leaders Illawarra Stingrays for what should be a cracking encounter, while Northbridge have a chance to build on this win with a home game against Sydney Olympic next Sunday.

Stay tuned for more Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 action next week.

Thanks to Steve for getting the band back together and providing the pick of the crop of the photos. Any factual errors, let me know. Remember to like and share wherever you clicked on this link, let’s spread the word to get as many readers as we can, as women’s football takes over our lives for the next two months.

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