AFL 4 months ago

Eagles Face Uphill Battle

  • Eagles Face Uphill Battle

West Coast’s hopes of a third straight finals appearance took another final quarter hit when they lost a high octane game against the Saints.

Leading by three points at quarter time, half time and three-quarter time, the Eagles lost another final term, which saw them tumble back out of the top eight.

The Eagles led by as much as 22 points during the second term, and again led by 14 points six minutes into the final quarter after booting three of the first four goals of the term.

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However, the Saints finished with all of the running, despite being without former captain and recent retiree Nick Riewoldt for much of the final term, after he was forced from the field after a clash of heads with Dom Sheed.

The Saints kicked four of the final five goals in the game to claim their first win over West Coast since 2011 and continue their poor run of final terms in 2017.

The Eagles have now lost 12 of 19 final terms this season and in their past six losses the Eagles have either led or been tied during the final term.

For coach Adam Simpson, the same issues reared their ugly head with the Eagles inability to close out games becoming a huge problem. “It’s happened a couple of times now. We thought we would try to play more of a running side… we’re doing a lot of things right, but we can’t maintain it for four quarters.”

The loss now leaves West Coast in a perilous position to make finals. Whilst they would be expected to account for Carlton at home, their final fortnight is against the current top two sides in the competition in GWS and Adelaide.

Sitting on 10 wins and with 12 required at least to make the finals, they will need to pinch a game against the top two to qualify for September action. But even then, it might not be enough.

The Eagles could have ended the Saints late charge for the finals with a win, but St.Kilda’s faint finals hopes remain alive as they joined the Eagles on 10 wins, to sit percentage behind Melbourne, West Coast and Essendon, with the Bombers currently inside the top eight.

And while the Eagles are still only a win and percentage away from fifth spot, the Power and Swans (who occupy fifth and sixth) have favourable draws, meaning that only the bottom two spots may be available for the five teams still gunning for a finals berth.

The Eagles got the quick start against the Saints, with Jeremy McGovern following up from a ruck contest deep in the West Coast forward line to soccer through the opening goal of the game. As he had done last week, McGovern started forward with Drew Petrie leading the ruck and Eric Mackenzie and Will Schofield holding down defensive roles.

Elliot Yeo also started in defence, initially lining up on Tim Membrey. Mark Hutchings was assigned a run with role on Saints midfielder Jack Steven, as was Jack Steele on Luke Shuey.

At the other end, Dylan Roberton lined up on Jack Darling while Nathan Brown had Josh Kennedy in a more expected match up.

The Eagles had the early control, but the Saints started to get their run going, particularly from their back half. The Saints forwards found themselves in plenty of space and were able to boot two goals with Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce able to mark on the lead.

St.Kilda blew a number of forward entries, as the Eagles backline defended grimly. Elliot Yeo was able to intercept a number of St.Kilda forays and West Coast were able to then counter attack on their own when Mark LeCras bombed a long goal to level the scores.

Malcolm Karpany then roved the pack to dribble home a clever goal, with Jack Steele drawing the Saints closer on the quarter time siren.

For the next two quarters, not much could separate the two sides. Each team booted 7.5 across the middle two quarters, with both sides enjoying momentum. The Eagles got on a roll, with a four goal run highlighted by a quick transition goal to Mark LeCras.

Some clever in tight work by Luke Partington and Jack Redden  on the half-back line found Karpany who cleverly dissected the Saints press. As a result, Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling and Mark LeCras were all forward of the ball in space against one defener, with LeCras pushing the furthest to goal from the goal square.

Josh Kennedy kicked career goal 500 and Dom Sheed’s long range effort on the boundary line had West Coast by 22 points and seemingly in control. However, the Saints then wrested the contest back with two goals in a minute and Blake Acres reduced the margin to under a goal on the edge of the half time siren.

Jack Sinclair was the catalyst for the Saints, with several important touches that saw him kick a goal and set up several scoring opportunities for teammates.

Nothing separated the two sides as they traded goals in the third term, but in the final the differences were stark.

The Saints had 50 more possessions, 31 more contested possessions, 11 more inside 50’s and 12 more tackles. With two teams with finals hopes on the line, only one team came to the fight with the contest on the line.

Alarmingly for West Coast, the final term performance echoed their effort against the Magpies at the same ground just a fortnight earlier. The Eagles were unable to win the ball at the coalface, couldn’t control the ball around the ball, and couldn’t put pressure against the Saints when they had it.

Adam Simpson may choose to look at the glass half-full, but the season will be fully consumed if they can’t arrest their shortcomings.

Match Details                                                Sunday 6 August 2017

St.Kilda                                 3.2          7.5          10.7            15.13 (103)

West Coast                         3.5          7.8          10.10             14.11 (95)

Docklands                                                  Attendance:            22,688

Goals:   STK         Membrey, Bruce, Steele, Billings 2, Sinclair, Riewoldt, Acres, Newnes, Ross, Dunstan, Savage.

                WCE      Kennedy 5, LeCras 3, Darling 2, McGovern, Karpany, Sheed, Cripps.

EAGLE EYE VOTES

Round 20                                                                             Season Total

5              Dom Sheed                                                        31           Luke Shuey

4              Josh Kennedy                                                    28           Elliot Yeo

3              Jeremy McGovern                                           25           Josh Kennedy

2              Andrew Gaff                                                      24           Andrew Gaff

1              Elliot Yeo                                                             23           Jeremy McGovern

ROUND 21 FORECAST

Changes are likely, with Nathan Vardy almost certain to return. Vardy was surprisingly left out of the Eagles line up last week, despite being available, with Adam Simpson opting to use veteran Drew Petrie instead. The Eagles were thrashed at the clearances in the final term, with Simpson admitting after the game that not having a recognised ruckman in the team impacted on the result.

Matthew Priddis has also been declared a certain starter, meaning that Mark Hutchings could potentially be in the gun. Hutchings was given the task of minding Jack Steven before being switched to Jack Steele in the final term.

Hutchings though had just 13 touches himself and a tackle, while Dom Sheed and Jack Redden have both been in top form in recent weeks. Sam Mitchell is likely to be retained, and it would be unlikely that the Eagles go in with all five players as they continually search for the best inside/outside balance in their midfield.

East Perth walloped rivals West Perth in the local derby and as such there were plenty of strong performances from Eagle listed players. Sharrod Wellingham was one of the best, playing further up the ground. Wellingham had 23 touches and booted two goals and could make his way into the senior side as the Eagles continue to look for more run forward of centre. Along with Wellingham, Josh Hill, Fraser McInnes and Nathan Vardy each also booted two goals.

Jake Waterman put in a solid performance in his first senior outing with East Perth. The father-son selection from last year’s draft has battled injury for much of the season, but in his Royals debut, Waterman collected 19 possessions, took 7 marks and kicked 2.2. It would be unlikely he would figure in the Eagles planning this season, but bodes well for a future AFL debut.

Kurt Mutimer had 18 possessions and booted a goal from a wing, and could press for selection this week as a replacement for Malcolm Karpany or Jamie Cripps. Karpany struggled to have an impact for a second consecutive week, while Jamie Cripps has booted just three goals in four games and could be due for a run at WAFL level. Francis Watson had 15 disposals in his third game back from an ankle injury that ruined much of his 2017 season, while youngsters Tom Gorter and Tom Cole had 16 and 14 respectively. Brad Sheppard had arguably one of his worst games of his career, but Tom Barrass looks like being the only change in the back half, provided he can recover from a slight groin niggle.

IN: Vardy, Mutimer, Priddis, Barrass, Wellingham

OUT: Karpany, Cripps, Schofield, Hutchings, Nelson

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