Melbourne has re-established its top-two credentials, thumping a hapless Fremantle side at Optus Stadium on Friday night – 12.13 (85) to 5.9 (39).
The Dees looked a class above from the opening bounce and made the most of their opportunities up forward while the Dockers were found wanting too often.
It gives the Dees a much-needed confidence boost ahead of a tough run home, while the Dockers’ top-four hopes are now under significant threat.
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There were no late changes for either side. Bailey Banfield (Fremantle) and Kade Chandler were the medical substitutes.
Simon Goodwin told Fox Footy pre-game Angus Brayshaw would spend time in the middle as the side opted for a “slightly different” look.
Rain early in the match made for a scrappy affair, but it was Melbourne that burst out of the blocks, applying plenty of pressure and hitting the scoreboard with three straight behinds.
The Dees’ first goal came after a great passage of transition from defence, with Christian Petracca setting up Kysaiah Pickett.
Bayley Fritsch followed up with a smooth finish on his left boot, as the Dees registered 10 inside 50s to Fremantle’s two in the early stages.
Charlie Spargo appeared to just clear the fingertips of a Dockers defender with a snap inside 50 and the subsequent score review was inconclusive, leading to a third Dees goal.
The Dockers finally started to turn the tide in their favour, with back-to-back goals (to Michael Frederick and Michael Walters respectively) making the margin more manageable.
Another goal to Fritsch put the Dees ahead by 14 points at quarter time.
The Dees made a good start to the second quarter, but Petracca looked in significant discomfort after an off-the-ball incident involving Sean Darcy.
Petracca ran up to Darcy after the act and remonstrated with the ruckman both physically and verbally.
James Jordon and Ed Langdon kicked the opening two goals of the quarter to extend the Dees’ lead, while a contentious free kick to Jack Viney for high contact had Dockers fans fuming.
A string of hindrances made for a dour affair, but that run was broken late in the second term via a goal to Jake Melksham, which put the margin out to 33 points.
Melbourne took a 37-point lead into half-time.
Fremantle opened the third term in better fashion than the first and second, but missed opportunities hurt the side dearly.
It was made all the more costly by relative poise in front of goal at the other end, with Fritsch and Weideman kicking truly.
A goal to Spargo put the margin out to 41 points.
The Dees entered three-quarter time with a 42-point lead.
Melbourne extended its lead in the final term to add to its percentage, with the Dockers continuing to look meek heading forward.
THE 3-2-1 (by Catherine Healey)
3) DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD IN RUN HOME
It’s the win Melbourne needed to have for so many reasons, not least of which because of the ladder ramifications.
Fremantle was one of the sides after a top-four and top-two spot, so Melbourne had the chance to take matters into its own hands and most certainly did on Friday night.
Coming into the game, the Dees had the third-hardest run home in the competition and needed to go 3-1 to be comfortable with their top four hopes, let alone top two.
That equation now becomes 2-1 after an impressive performance against the Dockers.
Keeping the Dockers to such a low score also gives them another boost in the percentage stakes, which bolsters their claims for a top-two berth.
Most importantly, if this version of the Dees shows up against Collingwood, Carlton and Brisbane in the last three rounds, they’re every chance to finish the season with a decent winning streak.
Then there’s Fremantle.
The Dockers’ game seems to fall apart in the wet and the losses they’ve suffered in those conditions have dashed their top-two hopes, let alone top four.
Coming into the game, the Dockers would’ve made the top four with a 4-0 run and been a better-than-even chance with a 3-1 record.
The loss to Melbourne means they really can’t afford to lose to the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne next week.
Games against West Coast and the Giants to close out the home-and-away season are far more winnable, but they’ve left themselves very little room to move from hereon in.
2) VINEY COMES IN LIKE A ‘WRECKING BALL’
Melbourne was criticized for their pressure leading up to the blockbuster clash at Optus Stadium.
But from the first bounce, the demons showed he intensity that’s been missing in recent weeks.
Viney racked up 18 disposals in the first half – nine of those contested.
He was the number ranked pressure player on the ground, and had six involvement scores to add to his dominance.
Fox Footy’s Nick Riewoldt said the Demons had “physically dominated” the Dockers on Friday night, and were able to “jump on the back” of Viney’s fierce start.
“You can look at the system and all that stuff – it will always be about effort and intensity,” he said.
“It looks like they’ve been ignited.
“Jack Viney, he was a wrecking ball in that first quarter and the rest of the boys jumped on the back and they’re away.”
Garry Lyon was full of praise for Viney’s impact on the contest.
“Your side’s in a bit of a funk and you’re looking to get you way out. One of the criticism leveled at you is your pressure rating is down and you haven’t been hard enough at the footy,” he said.
“(Viney’s efforts) is everything they’ve been criticized about not doing.
“That is what you need in times like this.”
Jonathan Brown said Viney was like a “wrecking ball” against the Dockers.
He finished his night with 33 disposals (16 contested) and nine score involvements.
1) DOCKERS DUO JUST CAN’T GET NEAR IT
For the third straight week, Fremantle’s forward line has failed to fire.
Rory Lobb came back into the line up on a drizzly night in Perth and had no impact on the contest.
Commentator James Brayshaw said Lobb’s fellow forward Matt Taberner had a “horrible night”.
The duo had zero marks inside 50 in the opening half.
The Dockers had just two goals before Michael Walters added his second goal seconds before half time.
Commentator Jude Bolton said the Dockers needed more from Lobb, and “didn’t like” some of the efforts he was giving.
“Rory Lobb when the ball comes inside forward 50, you’ve just got to be able to put your name on the footy and launch at the ball,” he said.
“You’ve got to be able to drive through it and have some presence.”
Lobb was behind “one of the worst kicks” Brian Taylor had ever seen.
He failed to kick it more than five meters on the wing before the ball dribbled out of bounds in the final term.
“He looks at his hands and tries to blame them – their yours mate, you own them!” Taylor lamented.
Fox Footy’s Nick Riewoldt was critical of Fremantle’s efforts.
“Fremantle wilted. They didn’t rise to the occasion Melbourne was setting,” he said.
“I was disappointed with the response.
“They looked jittery.”
Commentator Matthew Richardson said he didn’t think Fremantle could win the premiership in 2022, while Luke Hodge said their game style did not stand up to finals-like pressure.
“Their ball use gets shuts down. They can’t kick, can’t move it,” he said.
Taberner finished his night with just six touches and a behind, while Lobb had eight touches.
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