Just like that we have a winning streak!
While it didn’t come without it’s nervy moments, the Saints second consecutive win will be remembered for the team finally producing the level of football expected from it at the commencement of the season. For large portions of the match, Melbourne had no answer to the run and carry of the Saints which saw them move the ball from one end of the MCG to the other with ease.
Entering the match 16th for points scored and 18th for efficiency inside 50, it was felt pregame that the Saints would struggle to compete against a team ranked first in both categories. Yet, despite Melbourne going inside their attacking zone 12 more times and improving their season average in both aforementioned statistics, it was not enough to compete with the Saints improved synergy between midfield and forward line. One of the key chains in this connection was Jack Billings.
The 22-year-old has made an impressive statement since his omission from the team to take on the Swans. While there were some question marks on the strength of his opposition in his 53-possession, 3 goal game in the VFL, there can’t be any over the quality of his performances since returning to the senior team. Against Melbourne, he was one of the Saints best as he continually set up attacking opportunities with his crisp ball use.
Jade Gresham, continuing his love affair with the MCG, was another who terrorised the Demons with his run and carry. His four goals against Melbourne means he has kicked 15 in his last three visits to League Headquarters with the youngster from South Morang showing a distinct liking to the big stage. When he wasn’t kicking them himself, finishing the day with four inside 50’s and two goal assists, he was setting them up for his team mates. The most spectacular in the first quarter when he ran off the half back line to collect the centre bounce hit out at full speed and deliver the ball laces out to Tim Membrey 35-metres out from goal.
Membrey would convert the opportunity for the first of his four goals for the afternoon with his return to reliability in front of goals continuing after his early season woes. Paddy McCartin couldn’t manage the same accuracy but his ability to generate five shots and involvement in eight scores would have the coaching staff excited that his breakout game may not be that far away. The excitement up forward didn’t end there, Josh Battle continued his impressive form presenting a dangerous presence all day. Unfortunately it would appear that a fractured eye socket will keep him from the team for the next few weeks.
At the other end of the ground Irishman Darragh Joyce made his debut appearance. The former All-Ireland Junior Hurling Championship winning captain was not eased into League Football with Jesse Hogan his opponent for much of the day. With his mother Kathleen in the crowd, after flying 22-hours from Dublin, Joyce was serviceable despite a few early nerves and nearly registered his first league goal in the final quarter.
Jake Carlisle was his usual reliable self down back, his nine marks helping to break up a number of Melbourne attacking raids. Jarryn Geary in his first game back was hard as nails with 10 contested possessions and his commitment was on show when he was able to prevent a goal in the second quarter despite being one out in defensive 50. With Nathan Brown’s hamstring causing a few headaches for the line coaches, Daniel McKenzie and Seb Ross were also strong in the Saints back half. Ross may well have upset one of the umpires in the past though, if a pair of questionable last quarter free kicks paid against him are anything to go by.
In the middle, David Armitage and Jack Steven were strong at the contest with both winning double figure hard ball gets. Hunter Clark again displayed his class with a goal and his clever use of the ball. Jack Steele banished the demons of his tagging effort on Tom Mitchell earlier in the year with a standout performance on Jack Viney early and Clayton Oliver in the second half. Oliver, who has dined out on the Saints in recent matches averaging 35 possessions a game, could manage just a solitary possession in the third quarter under the close attention of Steele.
The lead blew out to a game high 27 points when Jack Billings opened the scoring in the fourth quarter. If there was a negative for the day, it would be the fact that the Saints were unable to record a comfortable victory from this position. This shouldn’t take away from the positives of the team producing their best football of the season and hanging on in the face of a withering Demons charge in the games final moments.
We haven’t had the year we want but we’ve said we want to finish off the second half of the year strong. We know if we play like this every week we can match it with the best.
Jade Gresham – Full Time Fox Footy
What does this mean we can expect from the last eight weeks of the season? If they can replicate this performance they will have a genuine chance of beating almost any team in the competition. With the Saints seemingly hell bent on doing so, it’s not great news for any team expecting an easy four points from their fixture against them in the run home or for fans hoping for an early draft pick at seasons end.
MELBOURNE 4.2 9.3 11.6 18.9 (117)
ST KILDA 4.3 11.6 14.10 18.11 (119)
Melbourne: Fritsch 4, Harmes 3, Hogan 3, Brayshaw 2, Petracca, Tyson, T.McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Melksham, Lewis
St Kilda: Gresham 4, Membrey 4, McCartin 2, Savage, Steele, Clark, Newnes, Armitage, Billings, Battle, Steven
Melbourne: Gawn, Brayshaw, Harmes, Viney
St Kilda: Carlisle, Billings, Gresham, Sinclair, Steele, Steven, Armitage
St Kilda: Brown (hamstring)
Umpires: Deboy, Gavine, Pannell
Official crowd: 38,910 at the MCG