Ravens rock Rams with slender win

Gladesville Ravens 2 Macarthur Rams 1

Gladesville Ravens returned to winning ways in this Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 clash at Christie Park as Macarthur went close to pulling off a comeback that looked unlikely at half-time. Once Maya Jones had settled the nerves, tucking an early opener into an unguarded net, the home team dominated, and added a second when Jones connected to a corner to volley home. Buoyant at the break, Ravens undid all the positive work by gifting a goal, Qynesha Riley intercepting a wayward backpass to score from an acute angle, and that set up a fabulous second half packed with incident and goalmouth action. Ravens hung on to claim their first three-point haul in four games, and ease away from their opponents in the league table. But it was close, oh so close.

A gloomy yet pleasant winter’s morning at the home of football, Christie Park, gave us perfect footballing weather, and Ravens were clearly up for the challenge of seeking to avenge a late equalising goal in the first game against Macarthur this season that denied them three points. And it wasn’t long before the home team stormed into the lead. Stef Lakic bundled through her player to advance with the ball on the right and slid a delicious ball through for Alexia Mavraidis. With goalkeeper Jasmin Eason committing to intercepting the ball and racing from her goal, Mavraidis won the foot race and crossed low into the area, where Jones took a touch and fired into the empty net to open the scoring.

Mavraidis was then fouled, Isla Giron lifting in a free kick from halfway, and when the ball bounced kindly with Sylvie Karena lurking, Alessia Rizzuto snatched at a shot, but Eason saved easily. Ravens keeper Alyse Oppedisano then fielded a free-kick from Macarthur, who were yet to trouble the Ravens goal, and Rizzuto then fired in from distance but the shot was comfortably dealt with by Eason in the Macathur goal. Maya Miller was proving to be a good source of hard running for the visitors, and she kept Lara Green busy with a series of searching runs as Macarthur tried to catch Ravens on the break. Indeed it was Miller who intercepted a weak clearance by Oppedisano, but opted to shoot instead of playing in teammate Charli Tomlin, unmarked on the left and the shot was comfortably blocked.

A clever run by Green, sweeping on to a ball by Rizzuto was then ended with a crude foul, giving Ravens a chance to deliver a free kick from the left. Rizzuto played in the perfect cross, but Mavraidis and Jones were hesitant and got in each other’s way when a free header would have most likely yielded a second goal. A mix-up at the back then saw Giron gamble and Ariana Ivastanin was sent to the ground under a heavy challenge, but the referee waved away appeals for a penalty.

A great run by defender Aurelia Smith then threatened to unlock the Macarthur backline, and she won a corner from her endeavours. Rizzuto lifted the corner into the same area as the earlier free kick and there was Jones racing in unmarked to connect with an unorthodix finish to snatch a second goal and give Ravens a deserved two-goal cushion.

A great run by Lakic down the right led to Rizzuto firing in a shot from distance which was handled comfortably by Eason. Macarthur then had a good spell, Mia Murialdo setting up Tomlin for a shot from distance, the shot not troubling Oppedisano in the Ravens’ goal. Tomlin then got free of the defence as Ravens struggled to clear a long free kick into the penalty area, but Smith was there to block and Giron shepherded the ball back to her goalkeeper. Ravens won another corner as the clock ticked to half-time, this time the ball to the edge of the area was volleyed by Sienna Bell straight into the unfortunate Anika Watson and the ball was eventually cleared.

Ravens had the advantage at half time and were looking good value for their two goal lead.

The home team started the second half as they finished the first, but Smith had to be alert to deny Riley with a block almost straight from the kick off. A delightful ball by Sophia Grindlay then found Lakic out on the right, who teased her defender and jinked inside to shoot, but the ball just missed the left-hand post and Eason watched the ball wide.

There appeared to be no danger when Tomlin nodded a throw-in on to Murialdo, Abby Duggan was across to deal with the danger. However, a wayward back pass between Ava Pirozzi and her goalkeeper Oppedisano saw Riley steal the ball and find the net with a clever composed finish to suddenly reduce the arrears and open the game up for a marvellous contest.

Leanne Merce then played in Murialdo, but Bell was there to clear up the danger, and Mia Dixon managed to squeeze in a shot that was easily dealt with. Oppedisano reacted quckly to race from her goal soon after, and smashed the ball into Duggan, but Sinead Fisher was there to clear the ball away from the unguarded goal. The game was now on a knife-edge.

Smith then raced up the left and crossed, Anna Wroughton firing wide, before Bell released Lakic with a superb through ball on the right. Lakic fired in a shot from a difficult angle, Eason palmed the ball away, and Jones, on a hat-trick and unmarked, connected with an unusual effort that looped onto the bar and was hacked away.

The speed of Tamika Richardson was causing the home team a few issues, Smith was caught out at the back and conceded a corner which saw Pyper Pearson connect on the volley, but Oppedisano was right behind it. Richardson then hassled well to win another corner as Macarthur continued to press, and Emily Denford found herself in space on the right side of the penalty area, but shot tamely on the stretch.

There followed a moment that will have caused Ravens’ coach Dali McDonald a sleepless night. Oppedisano had started to force the attackers to make her pick up the ball, and Tomlin’s frustration saw her jump in front of the Ravens’ goalkeeper in order to slow down the drop kick. The referee inexplicably played on, as Macarthur played the ball back and Tomlin could have been through on goal. Oppedisano assumed that a free kick had been awarded as Tomlin gave up the chase, but was a centimetre away from having the ball stolen from her toes, and the realisation that the play had not in fact been stopped panicked her into a clearance and Miller was able to fire in a shot that rolled wide. It was a passage of play that could have altered the course of the game, and Ravens had survived this key moment of indecision.

Macarthur continued to press, and a free kick from Tomlin was well dealt with by Oppedisano, then Richardson was played in over the top, but Duggan was quickly across to get a foot in, and Giron completed the clearance, even winning the goalkick. Ravens were then on the attack, and they conjured up a magical opportunity when Angelina Zaiter hooked a ball in to Jones. The wily striker hassled her defender and stole the ball, feeding the ball back in to Zaiter, whose shot was too close to Eason, saving with her feet. The ball fell to Karena, who lashed in a left-foot shot and the Rams keeper flung herself across goal to tip the ball around the post, a quite magnificent save to keep Macarthur in the game.

A long free kick by Pearson then found Ravens all at sea, and Oppedisano advanced to try and intercept with strikers closing in. Green though took control and flicked the ball away from danger, colliding with her teammate, and for a moment the watching crowd expected a Rams player to score. Ravens survived, but an injury to a Rams player in the collision halted play for some time as the dazed player was helped off the field. Could the Ravens hang on?

The resulting corner was floated into the danger zone, where Murialdo connected with a header. An incredible stretch by Smith cleared the ball off the line, and as Murialdo pleaded with the referee that the ball had in fact crossed the line, Danielle Cannarella turned the ball goalwards with Oppedisano out of the picture, but there was Green to clear off the line for a second time. High drama, and the Rams players continued to plead with the officials that the ball had crossed the line.

Ravens broke up the other end, Karena feeding Smith via Rizzuto, and her cross was smothered. Smith found room again down the left and tried to manage time down in the corner, but her touch was heavy, and Bell fell to the same misfortune a moment later as the clock ticked into the final seconds. The blast of the whistle was blessed relief for the home team. They had hit the bar and had been denied by a thrilling save at one end, while at the other end, two goal line clearances in quick succession had denied the Rams a precious point to keep them level with the Ravens in the standings.

There was a mixture of joy and relief for the home team at the final whistle, and they know they will need to do much better against Blacktown Spartans next week. The football had been impressive at times today from the hosts, but the manner in which they conceded at such an early stage of the second half and then rode their luck from then on, was ultimately concerning.

Macarthur entertain the FNSW Institute next week while Ravens are at Blacktown Sports Park. By that time, Australia will be gripped by the non-stop football action at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and women’s football will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Stay tuned for more exciting drama from the next crop of youngsters to take the world of women’s soccer by storm, and enjoy the party!

Thanks for reading. Any names that don’t match the action as it happened, please sing out and we can correct them. Those pony-tails over the shirt numbers do make identifying players quite difficult, and players in the wrong shirt numbers, well we can’t do much about that!

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