Controversy and drama : Ravens 2023

APIA Leichhardt 1 Gladesville Ravens 0

Gladesville Ravens went close to an upset for the second week running in the Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1 as high-flying APIA Leichhardt had to rely on the generosity of the officials and a horror miss to secure three vital points in the premiership run-in. A goal from Claudia Lacalandra, taking advantage of a fortunate bounce, had the home team ahead at the break, and try as they might, APIA couldn’t add to their tally in a second half where Ravens’ goalkeeper Chloe McCredie stole the headlines and made the hosts work right until the end for the spoils. Was this the biggest women’s football game in Sydney today?

An early kick-off at the behest of Football NSW turned out to be a fantastic idea, as the mercury climbed and Leichhardt basked in a beautiful warm winter’s day. The visitors were without Stef Lakic after her head clash last week, and Sinead Fisher was also absent, bringing Angie Le Roux in from the younger age group to boost the squad. And it was Ravens who started off on the front foot as Maya Jones fired in an early effort that came off her boot awkwardly. The brief spell of possession though was short-lived and APIA crept into the game, and Madison Aktila broke clean through. Her close control to round McCredie was no match for the Ravens’ shot-stopper, who dived at the striker’s feet the smother the ball and deny what looked like a simple opening goal.

A harsh handball against a Leichhardt defender then gave Alessia Rizzuto the chance to fire in a shot from distance, which whistled over the bar with goalkeeper Chiara Iurlo beaten. Angelina Zaiter then intercepted well from a stray pass just outside the penalty area, but her shot was wide, and Ravens were doing well to contain their illustrious opponents. When Giaan Pilgrim took a ball to the face from her own defender, she was on the floor in shock and laughter, but it was no laughing matter up front for the home team as the high line kept the assistant referee busy with the offside flag.

Ravens then fashioned a glorious opportunity. Jones fed Alexia Mavraidis, who cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot that smashed against the underside of the bar. The bouncing ball landed at Rizzuto’s feet on the edge of the six-yard box, with Jones also in attendance and Iurlo out of the equation, and she had the formality of stroking the ball into the unguarded net. However, her shot was rushed, and struck the underside of the bar again, and was cleared, an outrageous miss that would possibly come back to haunt the Ravens.

Lacalandra then played in Pilgrim at the other end, who cut in and flashed a shot across the face of the goal, begging for a final touch from a teammate. APIA continued to have the better of the possession, but Ravens looked good on the counter-attack, and when Jones raced on to a ball from Zaiter that had the defence scrambling, a tug from Trinity Gibson halted her run through on goal. This was a candidate for a dismissal, a cynical pull of the shirt on the last player, however the referee took the cautious route and only produced a yellow. A free kick, central and in range, was the reward, but Rizzuto’s effort sailed tamely over the bar.

Rizzuto controlled a high ball and laid the ball to Zaiter, who shot from distance, wide of the goal, then Mavraidis galloped up the left and squeezed in a pass to Jones, but her shot lacked power. That period of pressure was over though when Lacalandra sprung through, with a carbon copy of the move that saw Aktila denied at the start of the half; McCredie did the same, saving bravely at the feet of the striker, but this time the ball was forced from her grasp by Lacalandra’s momentum, and the Leichhardt striker pounced on the loose ball to steer the ball home for 1-0.

McCredie was incensed – the ball had been under control in her two hands, and then ripped from her grasp; the officials didn’t see it that way though, and the goal was awarded. Ravens were behind in controversial circumstances. It was the home team’s turn for a spell of pressure; a corner bounced off the bar and another was punched away spectacularly by McCredie. Ravens had to rely on the counter attack and Aurelia Smith fed Sienna Bell, but her cross was wayward.

Olivia d’Alessandro delivered a free kick into the danger zone that had Ravens panicking, and she then slipped in Aktila, who blazed over the bar with the offside flag up. That was to become a feature as the half came to a close, Ravens having battled well, but APIA Leichhardt having the lion’s share of possession and looking good value for their one-goal lead.

The first action of the second half saw Rizzuto deliver a free-kick from the right, and Iurlo hacked the ball behind for a corner under pressure. Nothing came from the corner, and APIA were straight on the counter, Lacalandra feeding Pilgrim, whose shot was well saved by McCredie. The powerful Lacey Wynne started to cause problems for the Ravens defence, but it was d’Alessandro who fired in a free-kick for Pilgrim, who stretched to divert the ball on goal, and McCredie did brilliantly to save another good effort on goal, Smith delighted to hack the ball away off the line.

D’Alessandro fired in from distance, but the ball was wide, and a second goal looked certain soon after when Lacalandra fired in on goal once more, but McCredie made another amazing save, and the rebound was somehow hit straight at McCredie by Aktila.

Wynne shot from distance, McCredie equal to it, then Isla Giron was deceived trying to see the ball out, Wynne stealing in and firing into the side-netting when she should have scored. McCredie then had to be brave, diving at the feet of Wynne, and a free-kick from the left by Georgia Bivona was fielded well by McCredie.

Ravens were feeing off scraps up front; Bell did well up the right but couldn’t win a corner, but it was an APIA corner that then had nerves jangling in the Ravens penalty area, Crystal Woods firing over when well-placed. Stella Valenti then played in Pilgrim on the right, but her shot flashed high and wide. A shot from Isabelle Zoghbi had McCredie scrambling under pressure from Pilgrim, and a free kick by Valenti was wasted, the wayward shot well wide of McCredie’s right-hand post. A free kick by Bivona was also wasted after Sylive Karena had brought down the APIA captain.

Ravens knew that one momoent of inspiration might give them a share of the spoils today, and Jones worked an opening up the right to fire in a cross, that Iurlo diverted away with her legs. Pilgrim, returning to the field after taking a knock earlier, then raced after a stray ball, cut in and forced a save from McCredie, and soon after raided down the left and her superb cross was missed by Aktlia at the far post. Ravens were battling, Zaiter bundling over her player, and Karena conceded a late free kick in a dangerous position after fouling Pilgrim. Alas there was no time to take the kick, the full-time whistle sounded and Leichhardt had secured the three points with the narrowest of wins.

McCredie quite rightly took the plaudits, but the game could have been very different had she won a free kick for having the ball taken from her control, had Ravens not butchered a golden chance to score earlier on, and had there been a card of a different colour when Jones was held back when running through on goal. This was like a summary of the season all wrapped up in one game; Ravens putting up a fight, but ultimately blunt in front of goal and not getting the rub of the green.

APIA Leichhardt now take on Northern Tigers in a blockbuster in the penultimate round next week, while Ravens travel to Lake Macquarie to take on the Emerging Jets, a game that will possibly decide 10th place in the ladder for one of the teams. Two more rounds to go in the 2023 season – if you haven’t been to your local park to watch a Football NSW GYL game this season, your time is running out. Stay tuned for more action!

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