Despite displaying plenty of spirit and plenty of effort, the Saints ultimately lacked the necessary polish to upset the Power at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday. Having lost a number of forward options to injury during the week, it was no surprise that it was an inability to finish that ultimately cost them dearly. After displaying elite conversion against Melbourne, with 18 goals from 50 forward entries, it took them 22 inside 50’s before scoring their opening major against Port Adelaide.
After initially struggling to combat Paddy Ryder’s aerial dominance, the Saints were soon able to exert a level of aggression that Port struggled counter. Unfortunately, as has been the case for much of the season, despite winning most statistical categories in the first term – including tackles, inside 50’s and clearances – the Saints were unable to take advantage and scored just five behinds.
The returning Jimmy Webster showed no ill effects from the injury that kept him out of the match against the Demons. His abductor was given an early test by a jinking Robbie Gray, but Webster was up to the challenge and earned an early holding the ball free kick when he successfully corralled the slippery Port forward. While he may not have been as prominent as he has been in other weeks his reliability was a steadying force down back.
Daniel McKenzie continued his development across half-back. Reading the ball well he was able to pluck a number of intercept marks in the absence of Jake Carlisle. Hard as nails, his strong challenge on Aidyn Johnson in the third quarter to win the ball saved a certain score and highlighted the relentless vigour he attacks the ball with.
Seb Ross also continued to thrive in his new role in the back half of the ground, his tackling pressure saved a goal in the first quarter and he interrupted a number of other attacking thrusts. With Nathan Brown and Carlisle missing, Sam Gilbert provided some much-needed experience down back and made a number of timely interventions including a smother in the third quarter. Darragh Joyce, in just his second game, showed some promising signs but a few decision-making errors were costly.
While there has been a torrent of noise over the weekend in relation to the protected zone, with many commentators declaring it a blight on the game, the actual worst ruling in football was on show at the Adelaide Oval. In the first quarter Jack Steven, and in the fourth quarter Mav Weller, were infringed in the act of kicking. The umpire, quite rightly, in both instances awarded free kicks to St Kilda.
Where’s the problem you ask? Rather than where the ball landed, the free kick had to be taken back at the point of the transgression. In doing so, the Saints were effectively punished and the Power rewarded with extra time to set up defensively as the ball was returned. A number of years ago, this kind of infringement was correctly deemed a professional foul and a 50-metre penalty was awarded. Whether this is the correct penalty or whether it should be awarded where the ball lands, either option is better than the current free hit players are currently being awarded to effect an opponents kick illegally.
After St Kilda’s early onslaught in the first, the second quarter was almost the carbon copy statistically. Where once the Saints had hurried and harassed the Power, the microscope was reversed with interest. After laying just five tackles in the opening term, Port managed 24 in the second including seven in the first five minutes alone. With the Saints unable to answer or operate in the face of the increased pressure, Port began to feast on errors. They began to find forward options at will and scored all but one of their first-half goals on the back of St Kilda turnovers.
Yet, just as it looked like they might go into the half-time break without a goal to their name, the Saints breathed life into the contest just before the break. After conceding 13-consecutive inside 50’s, the shift of Jade Gresham to the middle and David Armitage to the goal square saw two goals in a minute to close the gap to three goals at the main change.
The second of Armitage’s goals was on the back of free kick for holding that prompted a ridiculous level of questioning from Fox Footy’s Mark Ricciuto. The Brownlow Medallist, in yet another example of his seeming obliviousness to the rules of the game, was of the view that because Armitage’s efforts to ensure the umpire was aware of the hold meant that the free-kick was not warranted. He was surprisingly silent when a free kick for a non-existent hold resulted in a goal to Charlie Dixon later in the contest. A 300-gamer, a Brownlow Medallist and a Hall of Famer, he obviously knows a thing or two about football, unfortunately, he does an amazingly good job of hiding this fact when he commentates football games.
When Paddy McCartin had to leave the field in the first quarter, it appeared that a bad week for talls at St Kilda had gotten even worse. While it would ultimately prove not to be another serious injury, it was still a long day for the Saints forward line. Gresham and Armitage would prove to be the only multiple goal scorers for the day. McCartin went goalless and his fellow tall, Tim Membrey, managed just one goal despite his relentless work rate.
Armitage and Gresham were among the Saints best for the day, not just hitting the scoreboard but also winning the ball around the ground too. For Armitage, his 30 possessions backed up his 26 against the Demons in a return to form for the veteran from Mackay. For the exciting Gresham, a run on the ball was an opportunity to display his wares a little further out from goal and his creativity was put to good use with eight inside 50’s, two clearances and two goal assists.
A pair of jacks in the midfield continued where they left off last week. Jack Billings was prolific early with ten first-quarter possessions but couldn’t have the same effect as he had in the past two weeks. Jack Steele backed up his shut down efforts against Melbourne with another strong performance opposed to Ollie Wines.
In the end, for much of the second half the match was played with Port seemingly one goal away from breaking it open and the Saints one goal away from getting back into the contest. A few late Charlie Dixon goals flattered both the key forward and the Power, with 36-points not a true reflection of the difference between the two sides on the day.
Next up for the Saints is a Carlton team that will spend much of the week in the line of fire for a series of poor performances. On the Friday night stage, a fourth win of the season is most definitely achievable but anything less than their very best effort could see the Saints embarrassed by a young team keen to regain some respect.
PORT ADELAIDE 3.1 5.6 8.12 12.14 (86)
ST KILDA 0.5 2.6 4.6 7.8 (50)
Port Adelaide: Dixon 4, Watts 2, Westhoff 2, Boak 2, Ryder, Gray
St Kilda: Armitage 3, Gresham 2, Membrey, Dunstan
Port Adelaide: Wingard, Motlop, Rockliff, Byrne-Jones, Clurey, Dixon
St Kilda: Armitage, Steele, Gresham, Dunstan, Webster, Billings
Port Adelaide: Jonas (knee)
St Kilda: Nil
Umpires: Fisher, Schmitt, Hay
Official Crowd: 36,253 at the Adelaide Oval