Saints 7.10 (52) d. Swans 7.8 (50) @ the SCG
Frank Ienco reporting exclusively for AFANA from the SCG
St. Kilda have secured their most important and dramatic win under Grant Thomas’ reign following a heart stopping two-point victory against the Sydney Swans at a wet and miserable SCG tonight. The win, however, may have come at a cost, with captain Luke Ball taken off the ground with concussion early in the last quarter following a nasty collision.
The Saints appeared in control of the match for most of the night. St. Kilda held a significant lead for a low-scoring match at every change. But as has been custom at the SCG, the Swans appeared to come from nowhere to nearly snatch victory, kicking the only two goals of the last quarter to reduce the margin to two points. St. Kilda though managed to weather the storm, both on and off the field, and held on.
The vital win keeps the Saints (6-5) in the top eight and within touch of the top four, while the Swans (7-4) defeat is their first in seven weeks. While they remain in the top four, they have worryingly only won one in four contests at the SCG this year.
The visitors had history against them, having not won at the SCG in their last six attempts- a record dating back to 1999. Rain all week in Sydney would play a prominent feature in tonight’s game and would continue throughout the match. The centre square, generally used for cricket pitches in the summer months, was particularly wet and muddy and made centre clearances difficult. For the players of the Telstra Dome generation tonight was a return to rough old days of muddy, suburban footy.
As both sides struggled to come to terms with the wet, 25 year old debutant Michael Rix opened the scoring for the visitors after four minutes. The much-traveled ruckman, who had stints with Hawthorn’s rookie list and Port Melbourne in the VFL before landing an AFL start, kicked a remarkable goal from the boundary with his first kick in league football.
With large packs around the ball, the match began to resemble a rugby union contest, as both sides made a number of skill errors in the wet. With their backs to the wall, St. Kilda was matching the Swans in the tight contests and was handling the conditions better. It took nearly another 20 minutes until Fraser Gherig made his first impact to kick the Saints second from a set shot.
The Saints two goal to none opening term came in a match when goals would come at a premium. Sydney’s solitary behind for the quarter was the first time the Swans had been held goalless since the third quarter of last year’s Grand Final.
Perhaps it was a kind omen as Sydney arrested their slump just 14 seconds into the second term as Barry Hall received a Michael O’Loughlin hand pass to run into an open goal square. The goal lifted the spirits of the supporters who braved the rain but the Saints were not going to suddenly lie down.
Brendan Goddard re-established the visitors advantage when he goaled from a set shot in the ninth minute. Moments later the Saints had two is any many minutes when Leo Barry was controversially judged to interfere with Fraser Gherig right in front of the St. Kilda goal as the heavy rain returned.
The Saints missed two more chances to increase their lead before the Swans began to finally match their opponents. Lewis Roberts-Thomson made up for dropping a simple chest mark in front of goal when he kicked a crucial steadier for the Swans mid-way through the term.
The Saints continued to battle hard and were rewarded when Gherig kicked his third entering time-on – a great effort by the G-train in conditions not favorable to tall forwards. Sydney finally came to grips with the wet ball late in the term and began to apply sustained pressure to the Saints defense. Just as it appeared they would go into half-time empty-handed Matthew Nicks kicked a stunned snap shot to keep the Swans in touch, the Saints leading at the main break 5.5 (35) to 3.3 (21).
The rain only belted harder during the interval and the Saints lead seemingly grew larger without a goal being kicked. St. Kilda simply continued to play better wet weather football and was more desperate to win disputed possessions. Where the Swans were chipping short passes around and contending with large numbers around the ball, the Saints cleared the ball at all costs and benefited from an empty forward line that would often have only three or four players in their attacking half.
Jason Blake was the next to profit from a tough free kick call against Barry in the eighth minute of the term after the Swans full-back accidentally kneed him in the head. While Adam Schneider got a goal back for the Swans, it was obviously not Barry’s night when he spilled the ball from a great Nick Dal Santo tackle. Leigh Montagna picked up the pieces to grubber through what would ultimately be the Saints last goal and give them a 20 point break.
With the match now well and truly a scrap, the Saints again had to weather another Swans storm. Willed on by a remarkable crowd of 31, 146, Sydney again kicked a late quarter goal to keep them in the contest. Schneider had his second of the quarter when he snapped to again reduce the three quarter time lead to 13 points, 7.6 (48) to 5.5 (35).
The final term started in disastrous circumstances for the Saints skipper. Five minutes in, Ball copped an accidental elbow from teammate Matt Maguire while trying to tackle Swan Sean Dempster remained lying on the ground and the stretcher was called. Early reports however suggest Ball was okay in the change rooms and has only suffered concussion.
While St. Kilda’s 13 point lead is nothing in modern football terms, the conditions meant it was more like seven or eight goals. Like a Formula One driver who posts a fastest lap before the rain arrives making it impossible for the others to beat it, likewise the Saints usually meager lead appeared unmanageable for the Swans to rein in with the conditions. Goals were simply a rarity and the visitors appeared to have the better skills to cope.
But just as they have done before the Swans somehow found the will to nearly snatch an unbelievable game. It took them 20 minutes into the quarter until midfielder Brett Kirk snapped a goal from close range to get Sydney within two kicks. The Swans then launched wave after wave of attacks into the Saints defensive 50 for the next 10 minutes, only to see the ball come out again by an equally committed St. Kilda defense.
The match took on eerie feel of last year’s semi final against Geelong when the Swans somehow snatched a late winner. Just like Nick Davis that night, Schneider stepped up to become the hero, kicking his third for the night to put the hosts within two points.
Sydney continued to press on searching for the late winner but was wasteful with the football, chipping the ball around when circumstances and conditions would tell them to kick it long. St. Kilda appeared to have the right position in every crucial marking contest and eventually the siren proved their savior, helping the Saints avenge their preliminary final defeat to the Swans last year.
Nick Riewoldt (23 possessions, 7 marks) was one of the Saints best as was Brett Voss (20 possessions) playing in the Saints forward line. Maguire, the man who Barry Hall struck to nearly miss last year’s Grand Final, played the Swans star out of the game and was again brilliant.
Jude Bolton (25 possessions), playing his 150th game, was Sydney's stand-out player in another all-round team performance by the Swans, while Ryan O’Keefe (21) and Brett Kirk (25) were again solid contributors.
While the Saints have been maligned from all quarters this year, tonight they showed they have the grit and tenacity to push forward and make something with their list this year. Beating a premiership contender is an obvious confidence booster and tonight’s win is the sort of victory that can carry a side through the rest of the season.
The Saints return to the warmth of the Telstra Dome next weekend when they face another crucial game against the in-form Adelaide Crows. Sydney is one of four teams to have the weekend off with the split round before hosting a blockbuster against Collingwood at Telstra Stadium in a fortnight.
Final Score- St. Kilda 7. 10 (52) d. Sydney 7.8 (50)
Goals- Sydney: Schneider 3, Hall, Roberts-Thomson, Nicks, Kirk. St. Kilda: Gehrig 3, Rix, Goddard, Blake, Montagna.
Best- Sydney: Kirk, J. Bolton, O’Keefe, Buchanan, Goodes. St. Kilda: Riewoldt, Voss, Maguire, Harvey, S. Fisher.
Injuries- Sydney: Nil. St. Kilda: Ball (concussion)
Umpires- Vozzo, Schmitt, Ellis
Attendance: 31,146 @ the SCG
Article last changed on Saturday, July 01, 2006 - 12:38 PM EDT