Spartans’ second half surprise seals win

Blacktown Spartans 1 Gladesville Ravens 0

A goal in the opening moments of the second half by Alyssa McKenzie was enough to separate the two sides as Blacktown Spartans kept their faint finals hopes alive at Blacktown Football Park against visitors Gladesville Ravens in the Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1. A shortened game, this 60-minute encounter failed to lift the crowd, who had seen an Under 15s player treated by the side of the field by paramedics before being transported to hospital in a neck brace, and the players and officials felt underdone at the final whistle as the single goal settled it. Ravens never got going and this was an underwhelming performance that could have resulted in a much heavier defeat.

The players were ready to go, but the referee quite rightly suspended the start of the game, with one of the Ravens’ players from the previous game awaiting the arrival of an ambulance. The players kept themselves warm as the officials worked out how to win back the lost time, and the kick off finally came 25 minutes after the scheduled start time. Spartans were straight on the attack, and a low cross from the right was pushed away by goalkeeper Chloe McCredie as the Spartans threatened to snatch an early lead.

Ravens though responded with an attack of their own, Alessia Rizzuto playing in Maya Jones, whose shot was blocked as she pulled the trigger. Sylvie Karena then played in Jones again, but the attack was cleared. The Spartans’ Tataya Curry-Jones was looking lively, but it was Stefanie Kouklidis who played in McKenzie down the right and her low cross was smashed wide of her own goal by Ava Pirozzi. Curry-Jones then made a good run and crossed, but McCredie made a diving save to keep the scores level.

Another injury delay took the momentum out of the positive start, and when play resumed Ravens went forward, Rizzuto slipping in Alexia Mavraidis, who was tackled well in the penalty area. Jones was fouled by the bustling Ava Walker, but the free kick was easily dealt with by the Spartans’ defence.

A wayward free-kick from the back presented Spartans with a good position; Pirozzi was unable to reach the header, but Isla Giron cleared up and Ravens continued to ride their luck. McKenzie was sparkling up the right and beat her defender before an almighty scramble resulted in only a corner for the home side. Defender Aurelia Smith then found space up the wing, winning a corner, but the set piece by Mavraidis was just too strong to find a teammates’ head.

Curry-Jones then spread the play out to Sienna Gahagan, but her cross was unfortunately high and wide. The half-time whistle was a surprise; we had only played 30 of the regulation 40 minutes. The Ravens players remained on the field to receive instruction from coach Dali McDonald, while the Spartans disappeared into the changing rooms to dissect the first-half which they dominated but couldn’t find the killer touch.

Whatever was said at half-time had the home side firing, and as soon as they won the ball from the kick-off, they struck. Gahagan and Curry-Jones combined on the right, and a fortunate touch saw McKenzie race through, with McCredie slightly wrong-footed by a deflection and unable to prevent the lively winger from sweeping the ball into the net.

Ravens responded as Sinead Fisher’s touch sent Mavraidis scurrying through, but her low cross was cleared with goalkeeper Chloe Sankey doing well. Ava Walker smashed a shot from distance that whistled wide, while Smith hassled well to feed Sophia Grindlay, but her shot from 30 yards was tame. Grindlay was involved again, harrying her opponent into coughing up the ball, but her cross from the right was cleared. The game was to-ing and fro-ing, but it was Blacktown looking the more likely to add to their tally.

Gahagan beat Smith up the right, but McCredie came out to push the ball away before any of the in-rushing strikers could connect. Billy-Rose Taliai raced clear and sent an impressive shot curling wide. The resulting goalkick summed up Ravens’ day, McCredie getting the return ball from Giron before kicking the ball straight out for a corner. The corner found Curry-Jones unmarked in the six-yard box, whose header thumped off the bar and away to safety.

McCredie then came racing out to beat McKenzie to the ball, but her momentum took her out of the area and Blacktown had a great opportunity from a free kick. The Ravens goalkeeper was keen to show the referee that the ball was actually on the line, but he was having none of it. Adrijana Prostran fired in the shot and McCredie tipped the ball over with a fine save.

Ravens found themselves in a good position on the left; Jones cut inside and delivered a low ball to Sienna Bell who teed up a shot, but there was no power and Sankey saved easily. Blacktown were always a threat, and Curry-Jones rode two challenges before shooting wide. Bell and Walker then got into a shoving match when the Blacktown captain took exception to the close marking of her opponent. Walker then meted out her own revenge, flattening Karena to give Ravens a free kick within range. Alas, Rizzuto’s shot curled the wrong side of the post.

The game ended with Spartans on the attack. Gahagan fed Hannah Aldred who beat McCredie only to fire wide, and then Gahagan raced clean through, but was adjudged offside and missed the target anyway. The final whistle was unsatisfying, both teams denied 20 minutes of football, and for the Ravens especially so, going down to a frustrating defeat by a single goal.

Blacktown Spartans move on to a home game with strugglers Sydney Olympic, while Ravens are in derby action, entertaining Spirit FC at the San Siro of the north, Christie Park. With six matches remaining of the 2023 season, both clubs look destined to finish in mid-table obscurity, but with derby bragging rights on the line, next Sunday, try telling the players that the result is not important.

Thanks for reading. Remember to share this link to anyone who loves a good football read. Stand by for more action coming soon.

Some smiles, some frowns.

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