Footy Fix: They leaked like a sieve by StuffsEarth

Estimated read time 27 min read

When St Kilda ground out an ugly, borderline unwatchable victory over Gold Coast last week, the reaction was about as critical as any victory has received in season 2024.

Sure, they got the win, said the critics, but the stodgy style of play made those four points all but meaningless. Kane Cornes, who has never met a public opinion he didn’t want to latch onto, described it as ‘a disgraceful way to play football’, the harshest response to their performance but far from alone. Even long-suffering Saints supporters were left more relieved than thrilled by their performance.

So a week on, the Saints’ new-look style of play, particularly in regard to their ball movement, would have pleased many of those calling for chance after last week’s snore-fest – even if it resulted in a 20-point loss to Brisbane.

Ross Lyon tweaked things radically to have the Saints playing as fast and as aggressive as at any point in either of his tenures. Dangerous kicks were bitten off into the central corridor. Liam Henry buzzed around the midfield and even started attending centre bounces in the second half. Jack Higgins was forever a threat in an open attacking 50, while Max King too relished the chance to compete without having half the opposition flooding back into space and supporting his backman.

The history books will say St Kilda didn’t beat the Lions on Friday night at the Gabba, though their barnstorming final-quarter comeback very nearly threatened the impossible. It wasn’t the first time they’d challenged the Lions, but every time until the end their surges were met with a parry, then a counter-thrust, from a home side that showed immense composure for a side often derided for lacking it.

The seven goals conceded in the first quarter as the Lions repeatedly scythed the ball through the middle from defensive 50 without their opponents being able to lay a finger on them was, in truth, the ball game.

But the path back into the light is seldom an easy one, and teething issues were always going to be a danger. And unless there’s a Saints fan out there who believes the same fierce defensive press and patience that ground the Suns down so comprehensively last week was going to work on the road against an in-form and high-octane opposition like the Lions is, frankly, kidding themselves.

If the Saints were going to go down on Friday night, then at least they went down swinging – and in so doing, took the first step along the path towards a viable, workable game plan to take them places as their list develops.

The most notable change of all was the Saints’ commitment to winning the ball back as close to goal as possible – of which the drawback, especially early, was how easy it was for the Lions to score after breaking through that heavy press.

The Saints kicked five goals, including the first two of their final-quarter surge, from forward half intercepts, their kryptonite all year: heading into Friday night, they averaged under 16 points a game from that source, comfortably last in the league.

It was a high-risk, high-reward play given the Lions’ strengths: few teams in the league move the footy faster from defence to attack, but it’s known that Brisbane can be vulnerable defensively when put under the pump.

And sure enough, despite the above stat, the Lions consistently moved the ball from end to end through the Saints’ wall: 10 of their first 19 defensive 50 possession chains were converted into an inside 50, at a rate more than double the AFL average.

All the same, that goals figure from the Saints is all the more remarkable considering how well the Lions used the ball – their disposal efficiency never dropped below 80 per cent, an incredible figure for such a high-kicking team (with 250 kicks to just 95 handballs for the evening, their ratio was massive even by the Lions’ standards).

By the final siren, the Lions’ kicking efficiency was 82 per cent – comfortably the year’s best.

Add to that 151 marks, the latest instance of a team simply racking up in that stat against the Saints, and it’s a minor miracle – and a credit to the Saints’ stoppage work – that the Lions didn’t dominate possession comprehensively.

Turnovers were rare – yet when the Saints found or forced them, they capitalised frequently, which consistently kept them in the game.

It took a while for the inside 50 count to reflect it, but the territory domination ensured by the Saints’ control of stoppages made such a strategy feasible to the point the Saints were only seven points down in the final quarter with all the momentum.

Marcus Windhager’s clamp on Lachie Neale proved effective despite Neale’s seven clearances – three fewer than he achieved in tearing the Bulldogs apart last week – and Tom Campbell’s inclusion allowed the Saints to have a genuine ruckman at every stoppage, eventually wearing Oscar McInerney down.

But a 13-1 clearance differential (!) to quarter time wasn’t enough: time and again, the match would follow the same path. An aimless Saints clearance would wobble forward, be intercepted at half-back by the Lions, and whistle back over their heads with terrifying speed, usually initiated by Dayne Zorko or Darcy Wilmot, for Joe Daniher to make the most of a mismatch on first Zaine Cordy and later Anthony Caminiti.

With 17 inside 50s to 10 in the final quarter, it took until then for the Saints’ stoppage domination, which by that point had waned but not disappeared entirely, to be reflected in territory, with Liam Henry’s breakaway speed having been pushed up the ground contributing noticeably. Fingers crossed, for their sake, the ankle injury in the dying minutes that saw him limp from the ground isn’t serious.

Tag the oppositon’s best midfielder. Tire out the opposition ruckman. Move the ball speedily and target the corridor from defence. And when the ball’s inside 50, set up to try and turn it over. It’s a gameplan that lends itself to entertainment, and it seems to suit a Saints team seemingly conditioned under Lyon to be stodgy and defence-first to a tee.

The result of it all was as un-St Kilda-like a match as you will see: just the fourth time all year that two sides have both reached 100 points, it was the Lions’ highest score on the Saints since 2008 and the Saints’ best tally of the season.

Say what you will about Lyon, but it was an incredibly bold move to open the floodgates against Brisbane on their own turf – a team that, for the last five years, have ripped better teams than this to shreds on the counterattack on their patch.

But it worked as well as it possibly could have expected to. A 20-point loss to an in-form team would surely have exceeded the expectations of most Saints fans, and there will be no pointed criticisms this week of the Lyon style being a disservice to football.

The Saints will not be playing finals this season, barring a miracle: but the rest of their year need not be a waste, especially now that there’s a new style to be refined, honed, tested and improved upon.

A new, slick St Kilda has a long way to go before it can be spoken of as a truly threatening team – but if they can give the Lions as big a scare as they did on Friday night, then they’re a lot closer to it than they have any right to be.

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Alienx https://www.stuffsearth.com

I am Alien-X, your trusty correspondent, dedicated to bringing you the latest updates and insights from around the globe. Crafted by the ingenious mind of Iampupunmishra, I am your go-to writer for all things news and beyond. Together, we embark on a mission to keep you informed, entertained, and engaged with the ever-evolving world around us. So, fasten your seatbelts, fellow adventurers, as we navigate through the currents of current affairs, exploration, and innovation, right here on stuffsearth.com.

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