Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium
If the Fremantle Dockers had any aspirations of playing Finals football then a win against the Western Bulldogs at home was a must. The Bulldogs remained a mathematical chance to play in the Finals but this Round 15 game was a must-win game in that campaign. Both sides have been well out of form and languishing well down the ladder, but the Dockers went into the round with a one game lead over their rivals with a huge home crowd in attendance to urge them on.
It was dull and clumsy football in the first part of the match with many skill errors and ugly packs forming. Fremantle squandered early chances up forward,, turning gettable goals into points. Matthew Pavlich kicked the first goal of the game well into the quarter after nine inside 50 meter chances for the Dockers. The Bulldogs were chipping the ball around with short kicks rather than trying to penetrate the zone with some run and carry. Shaun Higgins kicked their first goal after Michael Barlow turned the ball over, but the play was mostly with Fremantle. Brian Lake was masterful for the Dogs, cutting off forward thrusts with his powerful contested marking ability. His efforts kept the Dogs close as he turned back attack after attack. Chris Mayne took the Dockers out to a meager seven point lead when he kicked a goal after the siren to end the first quarter. Both teams were playing lackluster football and that made for a tedious spectacle.
Things didn’t improve much as the next quarter got underway. Again Fremantle players were missing easy shots on goal and again the Bulldogs were under pressure and disposing of the ball poorly. Electrifying speedster Luke Dahlhaus provided some entertainment when he sprinted through the lines to score the Dogs’ second goal. His spark saw them start to work much harder around the contested ball and their increased work ethic began to cause the Dockers some problems. Greg Broughton won a free kick for Fremantle and goaled but the Dockers were getting killed in the contested possessions and clearances. There was ferocity about the Bulldogs’ tackling, as if they knew that their late season position were on the line with this game. Dahlhaus found himself with another goal after some sloppy play by the home side defenders who overran the ball and could not pick it up under pressure. The Western Bulldogs hit the front for the first time in the game when Tory Dixon goaled after some more Docker ineptitude. Pavlich’s strong mark and goal as the quarter wound down gave the home side an insignificant three point lead when the half ended but there were rumblings through the Perth crowd that this game was not going as expected.
Fremantle must have copped some harsh words from Coach Ross Lyon during the long break because they came out with a vengeance. They scored the first goal after some smart play along the wing. Pavlich was on the end of it for his third and from there they blitzed the Bulldogs to take the game over. The Captain kicked their next from point blank range and when Mayne and Ryan Crowley followed up, the Bulldogs were at breaking point. Crowley’s goal was particularly impressive when he soccered the ball off the ground to have it dribble through as if it had a radar. The Bulldogs had left their attacking game in the half time shed and could not get their hands on the ball to impact the game. Fremantle players were hunting in packs with a determination that had been lacking in the first half. Big ruckman Jonathon Griffen took a sprinter’s run though the middle of the ground, taking a couple of bounces to plant the ball firmly on Pavlich’s head. His resulting fifth major had the Dockers breaking the game open with the last six unanswered goals. The Bulldogs got lucky when an Adam McPhee pass in the backline went straight through the hands of Mayne to gift Ryan Griffen a goal straight in front. Matthew Boyd was trying hard and was one of the Dogs’ best, but when Nick Lower intercepted a bad kick in to convert another Dockers’ goal, things looked hopeless for the visitors. Dixon was not giving up however and kicked their next two goals, one after the siren to give the Dogs some hope going into the final quarter trailing by 22 points.
With 44 inside fifty meters to 24 so far in the game, the Dockers had done most of the attacking. There was the issue of percentage to consider, with a log jam of teams vying for a chance at the Top Eight. Fremantle looked as if they had to put the cue in the rack when they should have been trying to bury the Dogs and rack up their percentage. Fremantle rose to the occasion however, perhaps realizing what was at stake and Mayne was their champion kicking their next two goals. His second resulted from some Hayden Ballantyne brilliance when he kicked the ball out of mid-air in a contest to advantage. Stephen Hill used some style and grace to put the sealer on the game when he ran through the middle and kicked truly from 50 meters out. Will Minson scored a consolation goal as the game wound down but it was all over well before. In the final seconds, Pavlich scored his sixth goal to see him lead his side to a stirring victory and keep their Finals’ hopes alive. He stood up as Captain when the game was in the balance and was best on ground when the siren sounded.
Fremantle now take on teams that they have a real chance to beat as the season enters it final stage. The Bulldogs are rebuilding and will need to find some heart as they take on the powerhouse teams of the competition over the next month.
Scoreboard Fremantle: 2.3 4.7 10.10 14.11 (94) Bulldogs: 1.2 4.4 7.6 8.9 (57) Best Players Fremantle: Pavlich, Pearce, Mayne, Ballantyne, Crowley Bulldogs: Boyd, Lake, Picken, Dahlhaus
Article last changed on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 8:27 PM EDT