Western Bulldogs 1.1 4.6 8.11 11.14.80
Richmond 5.3 7.6 9.7 11.9.75
Western Bulldogs: Smith 4, Adams 2, Stringer, Picken, McLean, Bontempelli, Hunter
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Martin 2, Butler, Miles, Lambert, Caddy, Grigg
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Bontempelli, Smith, Hunter, Macrae, T. Boyd, Roberts
Richmond: Martin, Riewoldt, Grigg, Caddy, Houli, Rance
The Western Bulldogs have notched their fifth win of the season, but as so often been the case this year, they were made to earn it by their opposition, handing Richmond their second consecutive loss since starting the year 5-0, defeating the Tigers by five points in a thrilling, come-from-behind scrap in front of a near-packed capacity crowd of 46,387 at Etihad Stadium.
The Dogs' unwanted history of sluggish starts in season 2017 continued on Saturday night as Richmond - after being trounced in Adelaide just six days before - had a firm grip on the contest from the first bounce. Dustin Martin got the Tigers up and about after he kicked the first goal of the match just over a minute into the game, before it was cancelled out minutes later with a Jake Stringer soccer goal in the goal-square.
Luke Beveridge's innovative plan to play both Josh Dunkley and Lin Jong in the ruck in the first quarter against Richmond debutant Ivan Soldo had it's positives and negatives. It allowed an extra midfielder in the middle at the centre bounces and put the 204 centimetre-tall Croatian at a disadvantage when it came to the Bulldogs' running game, but the problem was Richmond's pressure all across the Etihad Stadium surface caused the Bulldogs to make a number of significant turnovers that resulted in Richmond goals.
The Tigers piled on four unanswered goals to end the first term ahead by 26 points. The dominance continued early in the second term, as Jack Riewoldt proved to be a menacing presence in Richmond's attacking 50, slotting his third goal of the evening, just a minute in to the second quarter to give the Tigers a 32-point margin - the biggest margin of the evening. At that moment Tom Boyd was back in the ruck, and Richmond were reduced to 21 men, with Nick Vlastuin going down with a shoulder injury, and the Dogs began to chip away at the deficit, getting to within two straight kicks before Martin steered it through for his second of the night, giving the Tigers an 18-point lead at half time.
Shaun Grigg booted the first goal of the second half to give the Tigers a 23-point lead early in the third term, before the Dogs bounced back with two goals out the back door, through Marcus Bontempelli and Clay Smith - The Dogs were coming, every Bulldog supporter should be accustomed to it by now, but like last week, the Dogs looked like they were going to butcher themselves out of the contest with misses from gettable set-shots and one too many disposals inside their forward 50. By the end of the match, they would have 11 goals from 62 forward 50 entries, but they would eventually get some more reward for their efforts with big goals from both Toby McLean and Marcus Adams to get the Dogs back to within a kick.
What was thought to be a serious knee injury to Jake Stringer midway through the third quarter could've thrown the Bulldogs off-balance, after he was seen clutching his right knee after he was tackle by Brandon Ellis, but after a brief period in the rooms, he returned with no strapping and no ice to his knee, but did not take any further part of the game.
Down two points at the final break, the Dogs were dealt with two swift blows in the space of a few minutes. Anthony Miles converted a set-shot that put the Tigers ahead by seven points early in the last quarter. The Bulldogs shortly afterwards found themselves down to 20 men after Josh Dunkley suffered a severe shoulder dislocation in an attempt to tackle Richmond skipper Trent Cotchin, which could see him out of action for an extended period of time.
But the Dogs continued to battle on with just two men on the bench, and through sheer determination and some brilliance in front of goal from Clay Smith, the reigning champs found themselves in the lead for the first time on the night 16 minutes into the final term. Where as Richmond ran out of steam, the Bulldogs continued to outrun the Tigers and a goal from Lachie Hunter put the Dogs up by 11 points, but Richmond weren't done with just yet.
Jack Riewoldt would've been lucky to have kicked his fourth goal in such a critical moment, as he received from Kane Lambert who gave it off after he was tackled by Bulldogs' captain Robert Murphy, whether or not the disposal was illegal or not remained to be seen, but the Tigers were back to within a kick with plenty of time left on the clock - four minutes to be precise. The Dogs held on in the final minutes to clinch another heart-stopping, come-from-behind win, their fifth of the year and their fourth win in a row against the 'Yellow and Black Army'.
It didn't come without some controversy, as Tiger Jayden Short was pinged for a deliberate out-of-bounds inside Richmond's attacking 50 in the final minute of the contest. In real-time it looked like he palmed the ball out of bounds in an attempt to reset the play, but the slow-motion replay showed that it looked more of a genuine fumble than any intention to take the ball out of play. Was it the right call? I don't think it was. Did it rob Richmond of victory? Absolutely not. The Dogs were deserving victors, and whilst Richmond were brave, they simply ran out of gas when it mattered the most.
The Dogs needed this win to stay in touch with the leading pack, and with Adelaide, Geelong, Richmond and Greater Western Sydney all dropping games this weekend, this leaves the Dogs a game behind the ladder-leading Crows and one of five teams sitting at 5-2.
Leading The Way
Luke Dahlhaus continued his outstanding form in 2017 with a game-high 31 disposals - 12 of those coming in the last quarter - to go along with seven inside 50s, five tackles, and five marks. He has averaged just under 30 disposals a game over his past five games. Lachie Hunter played perhaps his best game of 2017 so far with 28 disposals, eight marks, eight tackles, four inside 50s and a goal, whilst Jack Macrae was also brilliant in the midfield with 30 disposals - 23 in the second half - along with five clearances and four tackles.
Tom Boyd had arguably his greatest game of the season to date as he found himself involved in the contest on a consistent basis. He registered 19 disposals, six clearances, six inside 50s, five marks and 25 hitouts, Marcus Adams has been thrown down forward in recent weeks and on Saturday night he showed that he can be somewhat of a factor down there, kicking two very nice goals - one from the pocket on the boundary line and the other a set-shot from 55 metres out, Fletcher Roberts and Easton Wood were outstanding in defence after quarter-time, whilst the drive at half-back from the likes of Jason Johannisen (24 disposals), Bailey Williams (23 disposals) and captain Robert Murphy (23 disposals) were scintillating at times and were a joy to watch.
But it was the match-winning performances of Clay Smith and Marcus Bontempelli that saved the Dogs from defeat from the Tigers. Smith kicked four goals for the first time since that famous Preliminary Final victory last year, with two of those coming midway through the final term, whilst Bontempelli finished the night with 27 disposals after a slow start, and had nine tackles, six clearances, four marks, four inside 50s and a goal, his big contested mark in the last quarter when the game was to be won was a real highlight of the match.
Richmond supporters should be proud of how their players conducted themselves on Saturday night. Coach Damien Hardwick said he couldn't fault his team's effort, and I personally couldn't fault the effort either, particularly when the pressure they put on was first-rate to the point that even the most experienced Dogs made uncharacteristic errors. But the youth and inexperience of this team showed in that fourth quarter as the Doggies' poise and skill in the clinches proved to be decisive. Nine of the Richmond's 22 players that that took the field on Saturday night, have played under 40 games in their respective careers.
Dustin Martin bounced back from a rather ordinary performance against the Crows to be Richmond's best player with two goals, 28 possessions, seven clearances and four tackles. He was well assisted by Shaun Grigg, who had a team-high 29 disposals, six rebound 50s, five marks and a goal and Josh Caddy, who was busy with 20 disposals, five marks, four tackles and a goal, whilst debutant Ivan Soldo amassed 42 hitouts for the night, despite nearly half of those being against significantly smaller opponents, and with Toby Nankervis coming back from suspension next week, he faces an uphill battle to regain his spot.
Jack Riewoldt was dangerous for most of the night, bagging three goals in the first half, and whilst he wasn't able to add many more goals to his tally for the evening, he provided a big goal late in the match to keep the Tigers in with the chance. He finished with four goals from 15 disposals and eight marks - five of those contested marks, whilst on the opposite end, it was Alex Rance proving to be one of the game's best key defenders, often being the one that repelled many of the Bulldogs' botched attempts going forward, partitcularly in the first half, he finished with 16 disposals, eight marks and five rebound 50s.
The Dogs face a six-day break before facing a journey to Perth to take on another team sitting on five wins to start the year in the West Coast Eagles in the Doggies' fourth Friday night game of the year. It was only a month ago the Dogs were in Perth as they gave away a win to the out-of-form Dockers.
The Eagles, despite facing ongoing criticism that they cannot win in Melbourne, wouldn't have forgotten the absolute embarrassing demolition job the Bulldogs gave them in the Elimination Final at Domain Stadium last year, and will be setting themselves up for this big game. At 5-2, the Eagles are in fact at their most dangerous at home and this will be a very entertaining game to watch next Friday.