Illawarra Stingrays 4 Gladesville Ravens 1
A disastrous red card in the opening stages of this Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 clash at Macedonia Park handed a massive advantage to the league leaders as both teams battled gale force winds to serve up a classic. Jemma Horley’s handball outside the area was enough to receive her marching orders very early in the game, but a solitary goal from Maya Page was the only thing separating the teams after an even first half. Goals from Brooklyn Hudson and Ava Byrom had the hosts well in control, before Angie Le Roux reduced the deficit in a spirited performance from the visitors. Amber O’Brien’s speculator dipped under the bar to complete the scoring, but that didn’t tell half the story in a fantastic game, packed with action and incident, as the Stingrays were made to work for the three points.
A beautiful morning in Berkley, just south of Wollongong, greeted both teams, but the fierce cross-wind that had plagued the earlier games just seemed to be getting stronger every minute. The trees danced and the flags hummed, but both teams looked ready for action from the opening whistle. With Stingrays sitting at the top of the table, it was no surprise when they started strongly, but Ravens looked composed when they were in possession at the back and had a sharpness about them that showed they were ready to prove a point. A swift ball from Alessia Rizzuto saw Alexia Mavraidis scurry after it, but goalkeeper Sophie Bailey was quickly out of her area to clear the danger. There were only three minutes on the clock though when the whole game would take on a totally different context.
Isla Giron controlled a ball back from midfield, but her attempted pass to fellow defender Aurelia Smith sent her scurrying after the ball with two Stingrays attackers pouncing immediately. Hudson got a shot away under pressure from Smith, but Ravens goalkeeper Jemma Horley’s reflexes saw her beat the ball away with her hands, despite being caught outside her area. The unfortunate goalkeeper knew what was coming and there was no hesitation from the referee, who brandished the red card and instantly rendered this game exponentially more difficult for the visitors.
The free-kick blazed over with Alyse Oppedisano now installed in the Ravens goal, the visitors had to adapt to a new formation and make sure they held their nerve. Rizzuto clashed with Emily Cumming in the middle of the park, and the physio came to attend to what could have been a head-clash. That allowed both teams to regroup and coach Dali McDonald to work out a strategy.
Interestingly it was the Ravens who had the next chance; Rizzuto firing in a shot from distance, but it wasn’t long before the home team swarmed forward. Romany Janssens played in Janaya Baroudi on the right, who raced to the byline and crossed invitingly for Hudson, but she couldn’t get her head to the ball when well-placed. Hudson was looking lively and reacted to a one-two that took her clean through against Oppedisano, but the Ravens goalkeeper did well to block the shot. Hudson then instigated a superb move, playing the ball in to Byrom, who held the ball up and laid it back to Hudson who fired just wide of the post.
The visitors were reduced to counter-attacks, and when Rizzuto and Mavraidis combined, an inviting through ball saw Bailey race off her line to foil the incoming Sylvie Karena, a warning sign for the home team that they couldn’t switch off despite the numerical advantage.
Hudson was blocked well by Giron and Abby Duggan completed the clearance, Cumming was fouled by midfield enforcer Sienna Bell, but the free kick by Mikayla Gulabovski was again wide of the target. Good battling by Mavraidis then saw the ball fed out to Stef Lakic on the right, but Ravens couldn’t find the final ball. A swift ball up the Stingrays’ right was then sent across goal, Zoe Twining doing well to force the ball behind for a corner. In came the corner from Gulabovski which Anika Watson half-cleared, and Page, who had found herself an acre of space in the area, lashed the ball into the net past Oppedisano via the inside of the post for the opening goal.
Hudson then beat Duggan and was foiled again by Oppedisano, before Baroudi lifted in a cross for Hudson, who let fly with a spectacular overhead kick. Given the conditions, that was audacious, and the ball ended up out for a throw-in. When Twining lifted a free-kick into the area, Sophia Grindlay battled to retain possession and the ball dropped for Watson twenty yards out and she fired over.
Ravens finished the half in attack. First Grindlay stole the ball on the right to send in a teasing cross for Angie Le Roux. She jostled her defender, causing the ball to spill from Bailey’s grasp as she collided with her own player, and the wily striker poked the ball into the net. The referee was on the spot though and quite rightly disallowed the goal. Grindlay then took down a through ball from Lara Green and fired an instant shot over the bar, although the offside flag would have been against her, and there was still time for Grindlay to race to the byline and get a cross in, but Bailey watched it wide.
The first half had started dramatically and had ended with the Ravens showing that they would not lie down against their illustrious opponent. They would definitely have to earn the three points today, despite having the extra player.
The second half started with Illawarra looking menacing. Rizzuto was adjudged to have played the ball on the ground; the resulting free kick led to a scramble in the area and Meika Harris fired in a shot from distance that Oppedisano saved. The sprightly Sophie Chew then got around her player to fire into the side netting under pressure. But this didn’t prepare us for what followed. Le Roux flicked the ball away from the defender in her own half and set off on an incredible run down the right. Her pace saw her beat her player in a foot-race, and as she considered trying to find a player, she instead fired in a shot on goal. Bailey reacted well and touched the ball onto the underside of the bar. The ball bounced suspiciously over the line and bounced back into play where Bailey grabbed the ball with relief.
As is often the case in that scenario, what could have been 1-1 ended up being 0-2 in the next move. Baroudi beat Green on the right and swept forward; she crossed way too close to Oppedisano, but the Ravens keeper’s dive saw the ball bounce off the ground out of her grasp and straight to Hudson, who tucked the ball in from two yards out. Oppedisano was busy. She had to react quckly to race out at Hudson’s feet to prevent a quickfire third, and watched as Twining cleared off the line after Illawarra had hit the bar from distance. This was a thrilling game, played out in wild windy conditions.
The Stingrays then struck again, a clever flick through to Byrom, who steadied herself to slot the ball into the net for a third goal for the hosts, and the valiant Ravens looked to be creaking under the immense pressure. But the black and whites kept going, and it took a great tackle to stop Le Roux when Smith played her in with a sweeping ball soon after. The visitors had their tails up, and when the home team toyed a little too much on the ball in the back line, Le Roux stole the ball and ran through to finish, the shot deflected off Bailey and just inside the post to reduce the arrears and give the Ravens a sniff.
Soon after, Rizzuto closed down her player and stole the ball in a dangerous position and played in Le Roux. The first time shot was pushed onto the underside of the bar again by the flying Bailey and gathered as the ball spun back out. Ravens could sense an unlikely comeback and were causing all sorts of issues. However, just as they did when the Ravens first hit the bar, the home team went up the other end and scored again. This time the ball fell nicely for O’Brien, who took aim with a speculative shot from distance – there appeared to be no danger, but the ball dipped suddenly and flew into the net with Oppedisano and indeed all the players shocked by the unusual trajectory of the strike. O’Brien’s surprise and delight told the story as Illawarra moved into the comfort zone.
Bell picked up a yellow for a foul on halfway, Hudson was well managed by Duggan when trying to wriggle through, Laila Melo and Hudson combined beautifully and Oppedisano was out smartly to foil Sienna Graham. The action was unrelenting. Karena then beat two players on the left and Bailey had to come out quickly to block Angelina Zaiter. Karena then embarked on another great run, but her ball to Mavraidis caught the Ravens’ striker offside.
Grindlay then played in Lakic who advanced on the Illawarra penalty area but was bundled over, the referee choosing not to penalise the defender for a crude push. Duggan then rampaged forward, took a one-two from Mavraidis, but ran out of room. Page curled in a shot from distance after a dynamic run up the Stingrays’ right, before Baroudi threatened to beat everyone on a mesmerising run that was finally halted by Duggan. The game ended with Ravens in possession, Zaiter, Grindlay and Duggan getting out of trouble elegantly as the home team looked to snatch a fifth, but a 4-1 defeat in such circumstances was a moral victory for the visitors. Having hit the underside of the bar twice, one of which could easily have been awarded a goal, the scoreline could well have been different had the Ravens remained at full complement.
Gladesville Ravens now entertain fellow strugglers Macarthur Rams at Christie Park next Sunday and will be determined to reverse their fortunes. Illawarra Stingrays entertain Bulls Academy as they look to continue their impressive run as league leaders in the division. Look out for more top-class action from the Girls Youth League Under 16 Division One as the cream of New South Wales’ women’s football continue to serve up fantastic entertainment.
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