It was a football purist’s game. Long kicking, high marking and open aggressive play with rapid movement of the ball. It was also a game that had major significance for both clubs.
The game opened at a cracking pace. West Coast used their renown midfield pressure to will the ball into their forward line, but Adelaide were equal to the task early and applied strong defensive pressure in the air. The pattern of play was set early with Adelaide relying on long kicks, to overpass the midfield and lob the ball long into their open forward line. Adelaide also mixed their attacks by forming breakaways from defense, using players running in waves down the field. West Coast had more of the ball in the first quarter but they were inaccurate with their scoring. Adelaide did not have as many scoring chances but barely wasted a shot. Eddie Betts signaled he would be a problem for the Eagles when he received the ball just forward of the wing, sprinted with fourth-gamer Tom Barrass in hot pursuit, and kicked a 50 meter goal just as he was tackled. Betts' second goal was the other extreme. He kicked from 5 inches after a handball from Josh Jenkins who had taken a strong mark in the goal square. Towards the end of the first quarter, Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy imposed themselves for the Eagles by taking some big marks and kicking a goal each. Nic Naitanui did some good work around the ground and in the packs, but Adelaide’s Sam Jacobs beat him in the ruck, winning the hit outs 11 to 6. Matt Priddis and Mark LeCras negated Jacob's work by clearing from stoppages; and this gave the Eagles more chances to pump the ball into attack. By the end of the first quarter the wayward Eagles had eleven scoring shots to four, but only led by less than three goals.
In the second quarter Naitanui appeared to be struggling to work in the packs and Adelaide’s Rory Sloan started to match Priddis with center clearances. The game stopped completely when Taylor (Tex) Walker appeared to have soccered a goal from close range. The experts were left diving for the rule books when the video replay revealed big Tex’s foot had carried the ball across the goal line instead of kicking the ball before it had fully crossed the line. The score was ruled correctly as a point. Tex was non-plussed by the technicality. The ball spent most of the time in the Adelaide forward line for this quarter, with the Eagles defense withstanding the pressure and limiting Adelaide’s chances to score. An intriguing struggle developed with both teams kicking only one goal each, until the 23 minute mark when the irrepressible Betts scored his third. This stung the Eagles into action and they split the Adelaide midfield open with successive goals to Elliott Yeo and Josh Kennedy. Josh Hill then scored one on the siren to give the Eagles some valuable half-time breathing space.
The third quarter reset as an arm wrestle. The Crows did slightly more of the attacking, but neither side gave an inch. The Eagles dropped a spare man into defense. Adelaide needed to keep their forward line open, so they placed their free man in defense as well. Adelaide’s big forwards, Walker, Tom Lynch and Josh Jenkins used the open space well, but Eagles’ best defender, Jeremy McGovern, grabbed a couple of crucial marks to stop Crow attacks. The ball rebounded between the two back lines and high marking became a welcome spectacle of the game. The Crows spread the ball wide in defense and then worked it into the center to launch attacks. This proved a risky ploy when there were turnovers in the center and the central corridor to goals was laid bare for the attacking team. Two dropped marks allowed the Eagles to take full advantage of errors and score two goals. It appeared the Eagles would withstand the best the Crows could throw at them.
But the wheels fell off for the Eagles in the last quarter. Their forced mid-game change from playing their highly effective zone defense (where their defenders defend an area of ground and don't stand right next to their opponent), to more of a man-on-man defense with a spare player to mop up loose balls, became a liability. They lost all system in moving the ball out of trouble. There were no players running past for the handball to generate run; and the defenders were forced to kick blindly to patient Adelaide big men positioned across the center line. The ball became locked in the Adelaide attacking half. The Eagles were completely flummoxed. The air dominance of the Adelaide attackers had made the Eagle zone defense useless; and they were unable to employ another game style. The best teams in the competition can play two and even three different game styles during a game. Those that can’t adapt to shifting tactics lose. Adelaide showed the flexibility to be a top four team. The Eagles didn't.
West Coast will continue to thrash teams below them, particularly at Domain Stadium. But without some serious tactical flexibility, they will not trouble the teams above. West Coast will travel to Brisbane next week to face a bruised Brisbane before a mid-season bye. Adelaide will enjoy a break next week and then set themselves nicely for the second half of the season.
Scores West Coast Eagles: 5.6 9.6 11.10 11.10 (76) Adelaide Crows: 3.1 6.5 9.10 15.15 (105) Best West Coast Eagles: Priddis, Shuey, Hurn, McGovern, Sheppard Adelaide Crows: Sloan, Laird, Lynch, Seedsman, Jacobs
Article last changed on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 9:34 PM EDT