Luke Beveridge tried to tell us his Western Bulldogs had time to salvage their season.
The Bulldogs are back inside the top eight in stunning fashion, avenging consecutive defeats to reigning premier Melbourne – including last year’s grand final – with a thrilling 10-point triumph at Marvel Stadium.
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It also proved No. 1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan’s first statement game, with his career-best fifth goal sailing through to seal the contest in the dying seconds.
Three of those goals came in the brilliant final-quarter comeback after Beveridge’s men largely dominated the third quarter without getting enough scoreboard reward.
The only negative for the Dogs was another Adam Treloar soft-tissue setback that saw him subbed out of the match in the last term after winning 28 disposals in barely three quarters.
In a classic encounter with wild swings of momentum from the first siren, the Demons shot out to a game-high 27-point lead shortly before halftime.
But the Dogs kicked five of the next six goals either side of the main break to slash the deficit and eventually chased down Melbourne in sensational fashion.
They had challenged Melbourne throughout the night without snatching the lead – at least after leading three goals to one early – until they did so inside the final five minutes.
Bailey Smith and Riley Garcia combined to put the Bulldogs in front for good, with the moment also seeing the Dees concede 100 points for the first time in three years, in this exact round in 2019.
The Dogs’ season was in jeopardy when they suffered back-to-back losses to Brisbane and Sydney in rounds 16 and 17 but they are now capitalising on Richmond’s repeat fumbles from winning situations.
St Kilda proved no match for them a week ago but this performance was even more impressive, with Jack Macrae recovering from a tardy start to be one of the most influential players by night’s end.
Fellow midfielders Marcus Bontempelli and Bailey Smith were also prominent, as well as defenders Bailey Dale and Ed Richards and ruckman Tim English, who had a great battle with Max Gawn.
Clayton Oliver won 21 contested possessions and 28 disposals overall, while Bayley Fritsch kicked four goals but this was the Demons’ latest second-half fade out.
No. 1 pick on the improve
Don’t look now but Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is coming to life.
Ugle-Hagan’s stats sheet from this one won’t blow anyone away outside of his career-high four goals but he provided an excellent aerial presence all night.
The 20-year-old, who has copped his share of criticism already for on- and off-field matters, kicked multiple goals only twice in his first 15 career games and had only seven in 10 matches to start this year.
But Ugle-Hagan’s booted seven goals across the past fortnight to emerge as Aaron Naughton’s right-hand man at a time Josh Bruce is still finding his feet in his return from an ACL rupture.
New-look forward line fires
No Ben Brown. No Tom McDonald. No worries.
Melbourne’s shift to a smaller forward line based around two talls – Sam Weideman on this night, alongside one of Luke Jackson or Max Gawn – worked a treat.
Bayley Fritsch starred with four goals but Weideman, who came in for the injured Brown, added three and Jake Melksham and Kozzy Pickett helped themselves to two apiece in a balanced attack.
Alex Neal-Bullen poured on the pressure as usual, while money-kick specialist Charlie Spargo did his bit, too.
There is some doubt about whether McDonald will make it back in time to be a finals factor but if he does, will the reigning premiers stick with small-ball?
Melksham’s been the biggest beneficiary of the structure tweak, after it seemed the Demons might have got him to game No. 200 but no more.
The 30-year-old ex-Bomber had more tackles (seven) than touches (six) last week, but was sharp early in this one and more than did enough to maintain his spot.