Ravens win in Jets thriller

Emerging Jets 3 Gladesville Ravens 4

A devastating hat-trick from Angie Le Roux guided Gladesville Ravens to victory in Newcastle on Sunday in the Football NSW Girls Youth League Under 16 Division 1. In a game that saw the scoreboard swing in both teams’ favour during a pulsating 80 minutes, both teams found their opponents’ weaknesses and exploited them to the maximum, and it was the visitors who rode their luck and finished up winners in a classic end-of-season football bonanza at the home of Northern NSW Football.

The winter coats had been cast aside and Lake Macquarie was sparkling on a magical winter’s day as the two teams lined up ready to do battle in a game that would ultimately decide which team secured a top ten finish in the 2023 league season. Ravens were relaxed in possession in the opening stages, perhaps too relaxed when defender Avan Pirozzi rolled the ball back to goalkeeper Jemma Horley who took too long and was almost caught with the ball, Pirozzi quick to clear up the danger and bring the ball away.

The Jets were on the front foot. Sophie Johnson latched onto a ball in the area on the right and her shot was beaten away by Horley, and Julieanne Fox lifted in a ball that Horley met bravely, the ball ending up in the net but the referee having blown already for the foul. The visitors couldn’t get out of their half, but when they did they almost unlocked the home defence. Maya Jones raced through to outmuscle her defender, but shot wide, and that woke the Ravens from their slumbers.

Jets’ goalkeeper Tallon Convery made a meal of a clearance and Angelina Zaiter almost took advantage, and Ravens won a free kick for handball right on the edge of the area. Alessia Rizzuto stepped up to curl the ball into the side netting, Convery scrambling at full length to see the ball wide. We now had a contest on our hands.

Another wayward clearance from the hesitant Jets defence presented the ball to Zaiter, who fed Le Roux, but a magnificent tackle halted her progress and Ravens had their first corner. The corner kick was dangerous and bounced across goal, just missing the far post.

We didn’t have to wait too long for a goal. Rizzuto cut out a stray ball in midfield and fed Stef Lakic on the right. Her beautiful cross into the corridor of uncertainty saw Convery spill the ball and Le Roux was there to turn the ball into the goal from right in front, wheeling away to celebrate with her excited teammates.

Minutes later, a carbon copy of that move saw Zaiter play Lakic through with a delightful ball inside the defender, and her delicious cross was turned in by the unmarked Le Roux for 2-0. This was a start that Ravens had craved all season. Zaiter had her hair pulled, out on the right, and Rizzuto’s free-kick caused panic again, but it was the home side who would press next in a game that ebbed and flowed like the shores of the adjoining Lake Macquarie.

Penny Clarke played in Sophie Johnson, and Horley made an unorthodox save, and the follow-up was brilliantly saved, Clarke slashing wide from the loose ball, and a good chance had gone. At the other end, Zaiter cut in from the left and shot well, Convery saving down low, and Lakic turned smartly to fire in a shot, but was caught offside by the assistant’s flag. Aurelia Smith then slipped in Le Roux, who galloped through and fired in a searing shot that just cleared the crossbar, and Ravens looked good value for their two-goal lead.

Jets were back in the game all of a sudden though when Macy Johnson’s shot was spectacularly saved by Horley and Sophie Johnson rifled home to reduce the arrears. A great run by Makayla Clifton then saw Pirozzi hack the ball behind for a corner as Horley came to claim the cross, and Ravens were under pressure. Horley couldn’t handle the corner and a mad scramble had Smith swiping the ball off the line as the Ravens’ goal led a charmed life. It was no suprise then when Lorenna Thomas played in Sophie Johnson for a low finish under pressure to grab a dramatic equaliser for the home team.

Horley was then out quick to deny Clifton, Smith hoisted a shot into the side-netting up the other end, but Jets then raced forward, Sophie Johnson weaving through three tackles to slam the ball past Horley to give the home team the lead for the first time. It was no more than they deserved, having completely turned the game on its head.

Unbelievably, the lead lasted for only a fleeting moment before the industrious Sienna Bell closed down her defender, stole the ball in the scuffle and advanced to finish low past Convery to make it 3-3. This was some game! Amaya Shaw then lifted in a ball that Horley only just claimed, reacting quickly to smother the ball and ending up on the floor like someone playing twister, the ball behind her but with two hands on the ball. Horley had to be quick again at the feet of Sophie Johnson, before Ravens ended the half on the attack.

First Bell broke up the right and her attempted cross fell for Zaiter, but her intended pass for Sophia Grindlay was just in front of her and a great chance was missed. Bell then negotiated her way around her defender on the left to fire in a cross, but Convery was down well, and the half-time whistle brought a breath-taking first half to a close with six goals shared between the two teams.

Any suggestion that the game would have gone off the boil after the break was dispelled when Rizzuto played in Lakic on the right, who advanced and fired in a shot off the stanchion behind the post. We were in for more entertainment. The unfortunate Jones made way right at the start of the half, an injury sustained in the first half not allowing her to continue. Rizzuto then played in Lakic again, and with Convery committed, dinked the ball around her but the shot sailed wide.

Sophie Johnson continued to terrorise the Ravens defence and fired in a ball from the right that went under Horley but out for a goal kick, and she then did have the ball in the net, but the offside flag curtailed her celebrations.

The pressing by the visitors was intense, and finally paid dividends when Lakic played in Le Roux. The pacy striker advanced into the penalty area and finished well to complete her hat-trick and regain the lead that the Ravens had relinquished earlier in the game.

Le Roux was then played in again on the right, and her shot was touched onto the corner of post and bar as Ravens turned the screw. The corner was met by the head of Anna Wroughton, but fell just the wrong side of the post. When Bell stole the ball out left and fed Le Roux, there was still a lot to do, but Le Roux danced through to finish low. There was confusion, but an earlier offside had already been called and it was the Ravens who were denied by the flag this time.

Clarke then powered through two tackles but couldn’t beat Horley to the ball, and the game was on a knife-edge. Zaiter and Lakic combined well to play in Le Roux, but this time the shot was easily saved at the near post. Lacee Porcu was then played in, Horley stranded this time, but the shot was lifted just over the bar.

Le Roux then had another chance, but her shot was touched wide of the post by Convery, and Lakic played in Le Roux once more, and Convery again made the save at her near post.

When Clifton found herself in space, racing through on goal, she chose the wrong option and passed, allowing Lara Green to race over and clear the ball, Ravens having been caught upfield. Ravens then almost scored an own goal, a stray hader evading Horley, a scramble in the penalty area eventually cut short by the offside flag.

Le Roux then turned provider, slipping in Lakic, who smashed in a shot that was well saved by Convery, the busy goalkeeper even hanging on to the shot to make it look easy. Anika Watson’s deft flick then set Le Roux away, Convery was way out of her goal and Le Roux easily rounded her to move into the penalty area, but her right-foot shot was steered just to the left of the open goal and the home team were still in the game. This was as dramatic a finish as they come.

A late substitution brought Rizzuto back into the fold, but she was caught out of position as play restarted and Jets almost capitalised on the space in midfield, luckily the shot was wide of the goal. Mackenzie Preston-Poole then wriggled free up the right and fired in a cross. Horley missed the ball, but Abbey Duggan smashed the ball clear under pressure and Ravens could breathe a sigh of relief. The visitors won a corner when Sinead hassled her player into a misplaced backpass, and Rizzuto took as long as possible to deliver the cross.

But there was still time for one last chance for the home team, and what a chance it was. Clarke fired in a shot from distance that Horley couldn’t catch cleanly. As the ball bounced through her hands and towards goal, she batted the ball away, but only into the path of Sophie Johnson. The Jets striker lookd odds-on to score again, but Ravens somehow scrambled the ball clear, Duggan completing the clearance as the striker was left on the ground in a daze. The stoppage in play for Johnson to receive treatment was enough to use up the remaining time and the sound of the final whistle was a blessed relief for those in black and white.

What a treat we had been served here at the home of the Jets. A see-sawing game of many chances could have seen many more goals, but for those watching today, a seven-goal haul was good value and gave the Ravens a spring in their step for the long journey home. Ravens had never looked comfortable defending set-pieces, the Jets had been shaky playing out from the back, and both teams had pressed their advantage well.

Ravens have cemented tenth place in the ladder with one game remaining, and next week’s season-ending game with Northern Tigers has no bearing on their league position. That game is vital though for the Tigers who need a win to make the top four and finals football. The Jets travel to APIA Leichhardt who missed out on the top four after defeat to the Tigers this weekend, in a game that is now purely for pride. Stay tuned to see if Ravens can spoil the party next weekend as the season comes to a glorious end at the home of football at Christie Park.

Thanks for reading to the end. If you enjoy your Monday read of the Football NSW Girls Youth League, keep reading. Plenty more to come even when the season is over.

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