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Janet Linn, reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval

Round 20 produced some of the biggest upsets of the 2009 AFL season. When the Brisbane Lions toppled the third placed Western Bulldogs on Saturday night, St Kilda were ousted from eighth position on the Ladder. This turned their Sunday afternoon encounter with Fremantle into a must win game in their Finals campaign. St Kilda came in as underdogs due to their very poor record at Subiaco Oval. Fremantle were playing for pride and tradition at the end of a horribly inconsistent season. This was the fixture they had chosen as the Peter Bell Tribute Match, honoring the recently retired champion who played 286 AFL games (163 at Fremantle and 123 at North Melbourne). Each team had something to play for.

It was an even contest in the first term. The Saints started with plenty of run from Montagna, Clarke and Riewoldt. Ex-Sydney midfielder Adam Schneider was busy and scored first blood for the Saints on the scoreboard. For the Dockers there were also positive signs. Jeff Farmer, returning after a club-imposed suspension and under pressure to rescue his career with his contract up at the end of the season, played with noticeably renewed commitment in the first quarter. Adam Campbell was a reliable forward target for Fremantle and his two goals gave the Dockers an early lead. Nick Riewoldt put the Saints in front when he outplayed Fremantle defensive player Steven Dodd to kick his 300th career goal. The lead seesawed for the rest of the quarter with goals from Luke McPharlin and Paul Duffield for the Dockers and Schneider for the Saints.

Vigorous tackling and tight contests were a feature of the second quarter. After being well held by Sam Fisher, Matthew Pavlich had a purple patch and kicked two goals in as many minutes to give Fremantle a 16 point breathing space. The Fremantle defense was well on top early and the Saints could not penetrate their forward 50. Legendary Robert Harvey, playing his 378th game (the equal third longest playing career in the history of the AFL) kicked a classy goal which sparked a revival by the Saints. Stephen Milne caught the Docker defense napping and snapped a clever goal. With two minutes to go and only four points between the two teams, St Kilda players lifted, running faster and disposing of the ball more skilfully than their opponents but they could not convert on goal.

Despite the dominance of giant ruckman Aaron Sandilands, Fremantle were outplayed in the clearances before half time and this trend spiraled in the Saints’ favor in the third quarter. Within ten seconds of the opening bounce down, Lenny Hayes had cleared the center to Riewoldt who combined with Schneider to goal. The Saints attacked the game with more urgency and intensity than the Dockers and soon built a 22 point lead after more brilliance from captain and star center half forward Riewoldt. Fremantle looked nonplussed as the St Kilda rampage continued with Stephen Milne unleashing two magic goals. Milne’s brilliance was even more impressive considering he was playing after receiving a fractured cheekbone in a nasty collision. The  Dockers had several opportunities on goal but frittered them away wastefully.

St Kilda sealed the game with a goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter and were never headed as all competitiveness fizzled from the game. The Dockers had no answer to the Saints’ dogged determination and were comprehensively beaten in a hapless second half performance. The Saints’ seven goal onslaught in the third quarter turned their season around and ended up a soul-destroying lesson in football basics for the Dockers.

The Saints have an interesting run to the Finals. Their Round 21 game against Adelaide at the Telstra Dome should be a beauty and could go either way. In Round 22 St Kilda should dispose of Essendon but the 2009 season has been an unpredictable one with few games a sure thing. Fremantle play Richmond at the MCG next week in a game the Tigers will be desperate to win to keep their season alive.  Fremantle play Collingwood at Subiaco in the last Friday night game of the year in a match that could impact the shape of the Final Eight. What an incredible two weeks of football await!

Fremantle 4.3 7.4  8.11 9.15 (69)
St Kilda  3.5 6.6 13.9 17.10 (112)

Fremantle Campbell 3, Pavlich 3, Duffield, McPharlin, Mundy
St Kilda  Riewoldt 5, Schneider 4, Milne 3, Clarke, Eddy, Gilbert
          Harvey, Koschitzke

Fremantle Palmer, Grover, Farmer, Ibbotson, McPharlin
St Kilda  Riewoldt, Hayes, Fisher, Schneider, Milne, King

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Article last changed on Monday, August 25, 2008 - 2:15 PM EDT

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