While it might have been scrappy, error laden and far too close for comfort, on the bright side, Sunday’s clash against the Blues did bring to an end the Saints four game losing streak. Even more exciting was the fact that the team that brought an end to the losing run was both younger and more inexperienced than an opponent widely accepted as in full redevelopment.
With Carlton coming off a week of intense media scrutiny, it was to be expected that they would relish an opportunity to make amends against the Saints. As the first quarter unfolded however, Saints fans learned that being prepared for an eventuality doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
With a sense of unease the St Kilda faithful watched on as their team were dominated to within an inch of their lives at the clearances for the duration of the opening term. When the Blues weren’t winning clearances they were tackling the home team into error and turnover. It was the kind of opening salvo that the 2018 Saints would have wilted in the face of, but the 2019 team is made of sterner stuff. Starved of possession and on the backfoot in the wake of the Blues barrage, they fought and scrapped to ensure that they remained in the contest.
Jade Gresham was a rare shining light in this period, the dynamic youngster responsible for almost all of the Saints clearances in the first term. If he isn’t already the club’s best player, he is the one most likely to make something happen. In a game beset by error and poor decision making, Gresham’s ability to find space, time and the right option was telling.
Having weathered the storm, the Saints went about turning the contest around in the second term. With a greater intensity at the ball and their opponent, it was a completely different contest. Dominating territory and possession, the Saints had an opportunity to take a stranglehold on the match. Unfotunately, like they had a week earlier in the same position against Collingwood, they fluffed their lines kicking 3.5. A Josh Bruce goal on the half time siren gave them a three point lead at the long break but it should have been greater.
With the momentum at their back, the Saints opened the second half with three consecutive goals to open up the largest margin of the contest. Rather than the beginning of an avalanche of goal scoring, this moment would prove to be the high point of the afternoon. A Blues rally turning the balance of the contest into a gripping arm wrestle.
With Carlton winning the second half inside 50 count, the Saints backline were placed under considerable pressure. Like they have for much of the season, they were up for the challenge. Nathan Brown and Callum Wilkie prominent as they thwarted raid after raid from the visitors. In the end it meant for the sixth time in 2019, the Saints held their opponents to 11 goals.
Luke Dunstan was huge in the last quarter winning a number of key clearances as was Matthew Parker. While the 23-year-old mature aged recruit’s stat line might not reflect it, he played a key role in the Saints holding on in the final term. His second goal iced the contest but a shepherd in defence with the Blues pushing hard was perhaps equally as important.
In the end the Saints would run out deserved 13-point victors but there was a sense of disappointment among some St Kilda supporters post match. That expectations are so high still, despite the long injury list, is perhaps the greatest acknowledgement of how well this group has confronted adversity this year. With a number of reinforcements due back in the coming weeks, there are some difficult selection decisions to be made when the team comes back from China and attempts to turn a 5-5 start into a charge to the finals.
AFL ROUND TEN
ST KILDA 2.2 5.7 8.10 9.14 (68)
CARLTON 3.4 5.4 6.6 8.7 (55)
St Kilda: Membrey 2, Bruce 2, Parker 2, Dunstan, Phillips, Newnes,
Carlton: C.Curnow 2, Gibbons 2, McKay, Newman
St Kilda: Gresham, Steele, Dunstan, Ross, Wilkie, Membrey
Carlton: Cripps, Simpson, C.Curnow, Walsh, E.Curnow
St Kilda: TBC
Carlton: McGovern (ankle)
Reports: Ben Long (St Kilda) for rough conduct on Levi Casboult. Luke Dunstan (St Kilda) for striking Michael Gibbons.
Umpires: Fisher, Deboy, Fleer
Official crowd: 35,058 at Marvel Stadium