Reigning grand finalists Southport were feeling the heat heading into their Saturday afternoon clash with Footscray at ETU Stadium, having lost three straight, but the Sharks rallied in a tense affair to prevail over Footscray 15.12 (102) to 10.16 (76).
The win was just Southport’s second of the season and its first since round one.
With an average losing margin of 16 from their three losses, it was far from panic stations, but a 1-4 start would’ve seen the Sharks chasing their tail for the season’s remainder.
The eventual 26-point margin didn’t do the contest justice, which for the most part looked set for a thrilling finish. But a wasteful Footscray finished with nine straight behinds and couldn’t manage a last quarter goal.
Footscray’s ability to run out games is now a serious point of concern, with the Dogs winless from eight second-half quarters this season. The fact they were fresh off a round four bye this week only compounds that issue.
But the Dogs’ starts are a different story. They kicked six of the first seven goals against Richmond last week, and threatened to inflict a similar fate on the Sharks, skipping away to a 4.2 (26) to 2.2 (14) quarter-time lead, having nailed four of the first five majors including a brilliant Rylee West checkside from the pocket.
Footscray’s early ascendancy came off the back of strong contested work, while they were also able to punish a Southport defence that looked vulnerable on transition.
After their loss to Brisbane last week, Sharks coach Steve Daniel spoke of the importance of producing a four-quarter effort against the Dogs. And while their second-quarter effort in particular was what arguably lost them the game against Brisbane, it was what drove them back into the game against Footscray.
The Sharks defence began to click, allowing them to halt Footscray’s scoring and in turn make their own run of three consecutive goals.
You couldn’t split the sides throughout the second and third terms, and they went goal-for-goal for the most part, with Footscray leading by a lone point at the half, while it was Southport who took a three-point advantage into three-quarter time.
The final term however was owned by an opportunistic Southport on the scoreboard, as their 5.1 (31) dwarfed Footscray’s wasteful eight behinds, and saw them run away to finish 26-point victors.
Footscray skipper Lachie Sullivan was gallant in defeat, working tirelessly for 28 disposals, a game-high 11 tackles, and eight clearances. He was aptly supported by Ewan Macpherson who finished with 25 disposals, eight tackles, and five clearances.
Luke Goater was one that impressed up forward for the Dogs. He found Sam Darcy with a kick weighted to perfection for the game’s first major, before slotting the second himself. He would finish with 3.1 from 12 touches. Darcy also looked good up forward for the Dogs, and was able to demonstrate his marking prowess and spatial awareness despite fading in and out of the game, slotting 2.2 from 11 disposals and clunking four marks.
Caleb Poulter was another young Dog who looked promising. His workrate allowed him to break free from his man on the wing and find space forward multiple times, with some dashes of flair resulting in 2.2 from 14 disposals.
Debutant James O’Donnell, who’d given footy away for the past three years to focus on cricket, took to VFL level like a duck to water, and was Footscray’s leading disposal-getter at quarter time. He finished with 15 touches and eight marks. O’Donnell comes from prestigious sporting blood, with grandfather Kevin and father Simon both representing St Kilda, while Simon also played 6 Tests and 87 ODIs for Australia, and his brother Tom has previously held Melbourne Renegades and Victorian rookie contracts in cricket.
Dogs ruck Jordon Sweet toiled against the one-two punch of Brayden Crossley and Fraser Thurlow to finish with 40 hit-outs to their 44 combined. Sweet also laid seven tackles and had three clearances from 10 disposals.
Southport’s Crossley muscled five clearances while Thurlow was relatively quiet with 1.1 off the back of his six-goal showing last week.
Boyd Woodcock and Jacob Dawson were the Sharks’ standouts, with both worthy of best-on-ground honours. Dawson racked up 36 disposals, five tackles, and five clearances; while Woodcock was immense with two goals, 32 disposals, six tackles, and three clearances.
Jesse Joyce (26 disposals, six tackles, six clearances) and Matt Shannon (two goals, 22 disposals, six tackles, six clearances) were also among the Sharks’ best.
Ex-AFL Demon Jay Lockhart could’ve had a bag for Southport had accuracy been on his side, finishing with 2.3. The Sharks other multiple goal-scores were Tom Fields, Jackson Edwards, and Ryan Banks-Smith.
Southport will look to make it two wins on the trot when they host the Northern Bullants next Saturday, while Footscray will return to ETU Stadium to take on Carlton as they attempt to rectify their second-half fadeouts.
You can catch a Sunday afternoon double-header from 12:30pm on Casey Radio 97.7fm, as we’ll be covering the VFL clash between Port Melbourne and GWS, followed by the VFLW match-up between Port Melbourne and Carlton!
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