Demons fight off Hawks without coach to remain undefeated

Melbourne have left the MCG with their unbeaten record intact after showing their class to hold off Hawthorn in a relatively comfortable win on Saturday evening.

The reigning premiers, who were without coach Simon Goodwin, Luke Jackson, Kysaiah Pickett and Tom Sparrow due to a COVID-19 breakout, appeared in third gear for most of the contest, but flexed their muscle at important moments to keep the Hawks at arm’s length.

Toby Bedford kicks his first goal in AFL footy.Credit:AFL Photos/Getty Images

The Hawks were spirited early but didn’t capitalise on all of their opportunities, and also had a few chances late to put the Demons under some scoreboard pressure, but Melbourne did enough in the clinches to win their 16th straight game.

They kicked four unanswered goals between the 17th and 24th minute marks of the third term, which saw them turn a nine-point lead into a 33-point break, and that proved enough to hold off the Hawks.

The usual suspects imposed themselves on the contest. Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn led all comers heading into the final quarter, while Dylan Moore and James Sicily continued their good form for the Hawks.

Melbourne’s medi-sub Kade Chandler replaced Joel Smith at three-quarter time after the defender was sidelined with an ankle injury. Smith was seen on crutches in the final term. Conor Nash (quad) was also subbed out for Hawthorn.

The Hawks would have lost no admirers for their efforts, but played to their form as a mid-table side capable of making a run into the final few spots in the top eight. Young guns Moore, Jai Newcombe and Jacob Koschitzke – who are all 22 and under – gave fans plenty to be pleased about.

But games against Essendon and Richmond in the next fortnight will further test the Hawks’ 2022 finals credentials.

Dees without Jackson

For just the second time, Gawn, Tom McDonald, Ben Brown and Sam Weideman played in the same Demons side.

Brown had his equal-best outing in the red and blue, kicking four goals, while McDonald returned to the side after being left out of the Anzac Day eve clash with Richmond. He kicked 2.2, while Gawn also kicked two long goals from outside 50.

Max Gawn starred in his side’s win over Hawthorn.Credit:AFL Photos/Getty Images

Weideman filled the void left by Jackson, rotating from the forward line into the ruck to provide relief for Gawn, and while he was the quietest of the four, he took a nice contested mark and kicked a goal late in the third term to open up an ominous 27-point buffer.

But one of Weideman or McDonald are likely to make way when Jackson recovers from COVID-19.

Hawks’ fast start

The underdogs looked up for the contest early. Within the first four minutes of the game they had a two-goal lead, first via Koschitzke and then off the boot of Luke Breust. But missed chances prevented them from being further ahead.

Jacob Koschitzke celebrates a goal.Credit:Getty Images

Breust and O’Meara both kicked behinds, and then the Demons made the Hawks pay on turnover, with Bayley Fritsch getting on the end of his side’s first goal.

When Connor McDonald crumbed a pack and kicked his side’s third goal of the game, to put the Hawks 15 points up, they appeared to have their game flowing.

But the Dees took ascendancy of the momentum late in the first term and kicked two goals just before quarter-time to even the ledger.

Stats split at main break

Despite the Dees leading by nine points at half-time, all the key indicators looked even.

Both sides had 108 kicks in the first half, the same number of tackles (26) and the Hawks had entered their forward-50 one more time (28-27).

But the discrepancy appeared at the stoppages.

Melbourne led the clearances 19-12, and the contested possessions 75-67. Hawthorn had tried to possess the football by foot, amassing 11 more uncontested marks in a style reminiscent of the 2013-15 period that saw coach Sam Mitchell win three premierships as a player, but the Hawks were trending below their season average for efficiency inside-50, travelling at 42.9 per cent compared to their season average of 48.7 per cent.

Melbourne: M. Gawn, C. Petracca, C. Oliver, S. May, J. Bowey, B. Brown.
Hawthorn: D. Moore, J. Sicily, J. Newcombe, J. Worpel.

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