For a quarter and a half, St Kilda had the better of their contest with the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. By the midway point of the second quarter, the Saints had 12 more inside 50’s than their opponent but led by a meagre 4 points. Despite St Kilda’s pressure around the ground forcing the Bulldogs to handball themselves into trouble and bomb long into forward 50 where Jake Carlisle had a field day intercepting the premiers’ forward thrusts, the Saints failed to take advantage of their own opportunities.
Having expended that level of energy for such little reward left the Saints in a vulnerable position once the pendulum turned. Against a team like the Bulldogs it was just a matter of time before they had their own moment of ascendancy and when they did they made the Saints pay for their wastefulness. In what seemed like the blink of an eye St Kilda’s hard fought lead had evaporated and the Bulldogs held a 16-point half-time advantage.
Led by Paul Roos, many in the media criticised the breakneck speed the Saints went about attempting to slingshot the ball back into attack against the Swans. Whether chastened, or just having learned their lesson, it was a much more deliberate St Kilda team against the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, the level of pressure the Dogs could apply was such that the Saints system was ultimately unable to withstand it. Forced into continual error, the Saints were punished heavily for their decision making and inability to retain possession. It wasn’t just the volume of errors that was damaging it was the areas of the ground in which they were committed. By game’s end, it was a fatal combination with the Bulldogs, 75 points, able to outscore the Saints final tally in scores from turnovers alone.
Billy Longer was again strong in the ruck. Despite the big man’s domination of the ruck contest, the Saints couldn’t translate this into any particular advantage in the clearance battle. Koby Stevens, Seb Ross, and Jack Steele toiled valiantly to gain first use for the Saints but were thwarted by the Bulldogs’ Mitch Wallis, Ling Jong, and Lachie Hunter. Hunter’s impact on the game went further than his clearance work, he also had the important task of running with Saints star Jack Steven. Under the close attention of Hunter, Steven, so often St Kilda’s most influential player, was rendered ineffective.
With Nick Riewoldt absent due to his troublesome knee, St Kilda’s forward line struggled to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by a midfield that worked tirelessly. Carlisle was thrown forward to turn the fortunes of the match but whatever benefit gained by his presence up front was more than negated by the vacuum his absence caused at the other end. Paddy McCartin, the much maligned 21-year-old number one draft pick, presented hard all day. While a reading of his stats would do little to assuage those inclined to criticize, this is sure to change in coming weeks if he can consistently reproduce his efforts. McCartin got himself on the end of a number of St Kilda forward surges and if not for a few spilled marks he could have had a much greater impact on the scoreboard. That said, nine marks, one goal, three score assists, and seven score involvements point to the fact that the Saints patience with their young big man will ultimately pay dividends.
“It shows that we’re not at the level of the better teams,” Alan Richardson told the assembled press at the post-match press conference. It is a disappointing realisation for St Kilda fans a mere fortnight after hopes had been raised by a three-game winning streak including the scalp of GWS. “We know we have to improve to be fair dinkum to be in that space. We’re 5-5, we have no illusions about the work ahead of us.” The truth of Richardson’s worlds couldn’t be better illustrated than by the fact that the rampaging Crows lie in wait for his team after the bye.
The Swans game last week was the beginning of a nine-game stretch identified by Saints Summary as one that would define the Saints season. Two losses and a percentage hit of 12% is perhaps the worst possible start and a mighty knock to finals aspirations in an extremely tight season. The bye then has perhaps come at a perfect time giving the Saints the opportunity to pause and lick their wounds from a horror fortnight. They have come up short in their first two examinations however, there is still time to revive a season that began with such hope.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.2 5.6 10.9 13.12 (90)
ST KILDA 2.1 3.2 5.5 7. 8 (50)
Western Bulldogs: Stringer 5, Dickson, Dale, Murphy, Suckling, Bontempelli, Johannisen, Picken, T.Boyd
St Kilda: Billings, McKenzie, Membrey, Gresham, Newnes, Weller, McCartin
Western Bulldogs: Stringer, Hunter, Johannisen, Wallis, Dale, Macrae
St Kilda: Newnes, Montagna, Carlisle, Stevens, Roberton, Ross
Western Bulldogs: Hunter (ankle), Murphy (hamstring), Jong (cut head)
St Kilda: Nil
Umpires: Hay, Meredith, Findlay
Official crowd: 34,685 at Etihad Stadium