For Melbourne and St Kilda the equation is simple, if they want to play finals in 2017 they must win their next three games. In Top 4 calculations after victories in Round 16, both teams have seen their seasons slip towards the brink with three losses in their last four games.
With victory over St Kilda in Round One this year, the Dees ended a long run of outs against the Saints. Their last victory prior to this was, 14 defeats and 11 years earlier, in the 2006 Elimination Final.
The facts that matter
Remarkably, this will be the Saints first trip to the home of football in 2017, after winning all three trips last year, they are on a four game winning streak in Jolimont. Melbourne are much better acquainted with the ‘G, but have only recorded four wins from their nine games there.
If they are to double their winning streak against the Saints, Melbourne will need to find a better avenue to goal than they have followed in the past fortnight. In both their defeats against North Melbourne and GWS, the Demons won the Inside 50 counts but came up short, converting these entries into scores just 29% of the time while conceding a score 47.5% of the time that the Roos and Giants went forward.
St Kilda will enter the match full of confidence after their performance against West Coast last weekend. Beyond securing a much needed victory, the Saints dominated their opponent in almost every measurable along the way. Behind season best games from Billy Longer and Jack Steele, St Kilda dominated clearances, possession, inside 50’s and despite having much more of the ball, the tackles too. Their greater desire for the contest than their opponent perhaps best illustrated by the fact that they completed 31 tackles inside forward 50 compared to their opponents total of 4!
Both sides are hard at man and the ball and there won’t be too many easy possessions when they meet at the MCG. Melbourne’s midfield, unfancied by many pre-season, has been incredibly effective. With the likes of Clayton Oliver leading the way, the Demons rank second for contested possessions in 2017. In only his second season, Oliver ranks 2nd in the league in contested ball and has added extra grunt to the Demons on-ball brigade. Despite being the central figure in a pair of controversial incidents, his football has spoken even louder. Ranked 11th for disposals, 8th in tackles and 9th in clearances, the 20-year-old is without question one of 2017’s break out stars.
Both teams celebrate milestone games for defenders, Michael Hibberd (100 games) and Nathan Brown (150 games), who have both proven more than handy acquisitions for their second clubs. Hibberd has been outstanding for the Demons this year, and may well be rewarded with All-Australian selection at season’s end, after joining the club from Essendon. Brown, a delisted free agency signing at the end of last season, has been a much needed tall defender for St Kilda in 2017. His ability to negate some of the competition’s gun forwards has allowed the Saints more creative defenders the opportunity to help set up the teams sling shot scoring opportunities.
Herald Sun: Melbourne 22, St Kilda 8.
The Age: Melbourne 18, St Kilda 6.
It should be an intriguing contest and may well be the match of the round as the two teams fight to keep their seasons alive. It is difficult to identify a winner with any certainty, but Melbourne’s propensity to handball may be a factor. The Demons have the second highest handball percentage, with nearly 49% of their disposals this season by hand. In the last fortnight this has risen to 53%, St Kilda’s maniac defensive pressures are most effective when imposed on teams intent on handpassing their way out of trouble, this may well prove the difference. St Kilda to win by 2 points.
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