Western Bulldogs 3.2 4.5 7.9 11.14.80
West Coast Eagles 4.6 6.9 11.13 12.15.87
Western Bulldogs: Hunter 2, Redpath 2, Wallis 2, Dale, Dickson, McLean, Roughead, Stringer
West Coast Eagles: Darling 3, Karpany 3, Cripps 2, McGovern, Petrie, Sheed, Vardy
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Hunter, Bontempelli, Cordy, Dale, McLean, Macrae, Murphy
West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Darling, McGovern, Vardy, Petrie, Sheed, Karpany
The Western Bulldogs' chances of making the top eight, let alone contend for back-to-back premierships have taken a massive blow, going down to the West Coast Eagles by seven points at Etihad Stadium. It was almost like watching a repeat performance of their first encounter of last year, in which a horrifically-inaccurate Eagles held a big lead late in the third term, before the Bulldogs rallied hard in the last quarter to just fall short of the line, dealing the reigning premiers with their seventh loss of what has been a frustrating season. Last year, they hadn't lost their seventh game until their 22nd game of the season.
On a sunny, yet cool Saturday afternoon, with the roof open and the sun shining brightly down on Etihad Stadium, this contest proved to be a similar game to last time, however the Eagles had missing captain Shannon Hurn, star full-forward Josh Kennedy, star ruckman Nic Naitanui, key midfielder Matt Priddis and the sharpshooting Mark LeCras - five of West Coast's most important players. It wouldn't affect the Eagles as they got off to a flying start after Mitch Wallis got the Dogs' going with the first goal of the game. The Eagles looked to unlikely sources in All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern and fourth-gamer Malcolm Karpany to get the West Coast's goals early.
From there, the Eagles never relinquished the lead. For the first three quarters, West Coast were the better team of the two, and made far less errors and forced the Bulldogs into making more errors and were able to take advantage of a leaky Bulldogs' defence, if it wasn't for a wasteful opening term in which they could only manage 4.6 from 16 inside 50 entries, could've made this game a blow out result by quarter time.
It's not that the Dogs weren't trying hard, because they were. They laid nineteen more tackles than West Coast and were on top of the contested possessions 152-148. But it was a lack of polish going forward that ultimately cost the Dogs. Free kicks were the hot topic of the week after it was reported several AFL clubs had enquired about the Western Bulldogs and whether or not the umpires were giving them favourable free kicks, and whilst many Bulldogs supporters were frustrated with many decisions, I certainly don't think they were to blame - many umpires make mistakes and miss calls.
We've seen advantage goals like the one Jack Macrae kicked in the first quarter called back for one bizarre reason or another and we've definitely seen umpires get in the way of players like they did to Mitch Honeychurch in the second term. I'm not concerned about the umpires, they are just like you or me or the players that take the pitch each week. They are bound to make mistakes - I can't ever recall an umpire that performed a 'perfect game' in which he makes every right call.
The Western Bulldogs only managed 1.3 in the second quarter off of 17 inside 50 entries, which is absolutely putrid for a team that should be contending for another premiership. Jake Stringer, Tory Dickson and Mitch Honeychurch all struggled majorly to make an impact down forward and struggled to get dangerous. The Dogs' only goal came from Jack Redpath late in the second quarter when the Dogs managed to make it all the way from defence to the goals without coughing the ball up.
The Dogs tried to will themselves back into the contest in the second half. A Bailey Dale goal in the opening minutes brought the margin back to single figures momentarily, before Eagles continued to control the play, kicking goals to give themselves some breathing room. The Dogs continued to butcher possession and allow West Coast's forwards a lot of easy goals. Jack Darling, Karpany and Jamie Cripps all kicked goals from close range and the goals began to tally up
An errant Jordan Roughead kick in defence that went over the top of Shane Biggs and out of bounds, which would end up in a Dom Sheed goal from the corresponding stoppage would've summed up how incredibly frustrating the Dogs have been all season long and how consistently despicable the use of the ball by foot has been. A 30-point lead late in the third quarter spelled a disasterous loss at home to a team that allegedly couldn't play in Melbourne.
A Jack Darling snap from outside the goal-square resulted in what could've been a costly behind at the start of the last quarter - the Bulldogs ran it up the ground in seconds, but a Bailey Dale miss would've had Bulldogs' fans hopeful of another miracle comeback, much like many of their wins so far in 2017. The Dogs would kick the first four goals of the final quarter in what looked like the Bulldogs of 2016. They ran, they looked electric with the ball in hand and they applied the manic pressure of the Eagles that got them the 2016 premiership - Where in the hell was that in the first three quarters?
Goals to Lachie Hunter and Mitch Wallis got the Dogs back into the contest as they found themselves three goals down by nine-minute mark of the final term, but the Dogs also squandered several chances in the final term that could've nabbed them what looked like an unlikely victory at three-quarter time. Marcus Bontempelli misfired from 50, as too did Bob Murphy. Jordan Roughead goaled in the 12th minute to bring the margin back to eight points - making amends for that error in the third quarter.
The Eagles were down to only two rotations on the bench for the final quarter with both Sharrod Wellingham and Sam Butler suffering injuries that could see them sidelined for weeks, and as a result, were struggling to keep up with the intensity that the Bulldogs were bringing in this fourth quarter. A poor Tom Barrass kick in defence resulted in a Jake Stringer goal - the Bulldogs' fourth goal of the quarter. About 30-40 minutes before that, he was receiving bronx cheers from the Etihad crowd for taking a mark - that was how poor his afternoon was.
The Bulldogs were one point down and on the precipice of stealing another victory from the clutches of their opposition. But up stood an unlikely match-winner in the form of the former Geelong ruckman Nathan Vardy. With a couple of minutes remaining, Vardy, who did injure his shoulder earlier, disposed of his counterpart Tom Campbell in the ruck contest just outside the goalsquare and snapped truly to give the Eagles a seven-point lead. He would then go on to take a crucial mark as the Dogs made one last charge towards an unlikely victory, providing the saviour to West Coast's woes in Melbourne and a heartbreaker for the Bulldogs' supporters.
Leading The Way
Whilst there were a number of 'Premiership Stars' that looked lethargic and struggled to get involved into the game, there were a handful of Doggies' players that were consistently solid throughout the four quarters.
Lachie Hunter was the Bulldogs' best player for mine, leading all Bulldogs in disposals, recording 26 touches for the match, whilst recording five tackles, four inside 50s, three rebound 50s and two goals, whilst Marcus Bontempelli (24 disposals, five marks, five tackles, four clearances and four inside 50s) and Jack Macrae (24 disposals, eight tackles and three clearances) were also prolific in the midfield.
I was proud of the the Western Bulldogs' younger contigent of players. I'm talking about guys like Zaine Cordy, who had a terrific defensive game and battled his heart out en route to 17 disposals and seven marks, Bailey Dale who was busy with his 17 disposals, four tackles and one goal and Toby McLean who continues to impress in midfield with 21 disposals, six tackles, four clearances and three inside 50s.
Other Bulldogs that could hold their heads high from this game included defender Shane Biggs, who had 24 disposals, six marks and four rebound 50s, Jack Redpath was easily the most dangerous forward and kicked two goals from 17 disposals, nine marks and four inside 50 entries, whilst the veterans that are Easton Wood (21 disposals and eight marks) and returning captain Robert Murphy (19 disposals, seven marks, seven inside 50s and five tackles) tried their best.
But at 7-7, the Western Bulldogs would need something special to get them into September this season. Jake Stringer and Tory Dickson were virtually non-existant, Liam Picken continued his underwhelming 2017 campaign, Matt Suckling struggled again and Jason Johannisen continues to play like he's a victim instead of knuckling down and just focussing and playing footy. Something has got to change with these guys, this is the reason why the Dogs dropped another game they should've won - too many passengers.
Whilst I'm ranting on the subject of what cost us this match, who in the hell was playing on Andrew Gaff all game long? Gaff recorded 42 disposals - 36 of those in the first three quarters - along with 10 inside 50s, five marks, four clearances and four rebound 50s in what I could only describe as a best on ground effort. Luke Beveridge has proven that he is a master tactician, but I'd love to know why this man was not tagged in a similar fashion to what opposition players have done to Jason Johannisen over this past month. After Gaff, there was a number of Eagles who performed well. Dom Sheed was the next best disposal winner with 28 disposals, he also recorded seven inside 50s, six marks, six clearances and a goal.
Jack Darling's influence in attacking 50 was incredible. Darling would kick 3.2 from 18 disposals and seven marks, and would also give off a few goals that were vital to the team's win. All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern (15 disposals, 10 marks, five inside 50s and one goal) proved to be more of a hit than a miss up forward and around the ground, whilst I was impressed by the 22-year old fourth-gamer Malcolm Karpany, who kicked three goals from 17 disposals and eight marks - I could definitely see him replace LeCras when he eventually calls time on his career.
Former North forward Drew Petrie played another great game on the Doggies, with 18 disposals, eight marks, five tackles and one goal, whilst Eric Mackenzie and Mark Hutchings were pivotal in shutting down both Jake Stringer and Jason Johannisen respectively. Stringer only just the nine disposals, whilst Mackenzie, a former All-Australian back in 2014, picked up 12 disposals and eight marks in what looked like a return to form, whilst Hutchings' niggling tactics kept Johannisen to another meek performance, with the 2016 Norm Smith medallist kept to 12 disposals.
How about this one for a crunch game? The Bulldogs are travelling up to Adelaide Oval to battle a premiership contender in the Adelaide Crows in what sounded like a mouth-watering showdown between two sides that have a lot of history between each other at the start of the year, but going on the Bulldogs' recent form, their backs have been firmly planted against the wall after a month that has largely consisted of uninspiring and to say the least - horrendous footy.
The Crows sit second on the ladder, but their past month of footy hasn't been so peachy. They lost comprehensively to Geelong and dropped what was seemingly an undroppable game against Hawthorn in Adelaide, and just recently scraped home against a Carlton team that are sitting 16th on the AFL ladder. The 2017 AFL season has produced so many close games and shock wins, will we see the Bulldogs keep their season alive next Friday night?
As it stands right now, their season is just hanging by a thread.