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Match of the Day: Port pulls out of the fire a game won, lost, then won again

Jubilation for Port Adelaide pair Robbie Gray and Brad Ebert, despair for St Kilda as the final siren sounds at Adelaide Oval. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Port pulls out of the fire a game won, lost, then won again

Cream rises to the top, they say. It certainly did at Adelaide Oval on Saturday, when Port Adelaide, won, lost, then won again a critical two-point win over a desperate but ultimately denied St Kilda.

Three quarters of dour scrapping in wet, difficult conditions had produced just eight goals and precious few highlights. But boy, did the last quarter make up for that, nine goals in a hurry, four in a row to the Saints to all but take the points, before an amazing last-gasp surge from the Power.

St Kilda had come from 14 points down midway through the term to lead by 10, a long bomb from Tim Membrey seemingly clinching what would have been an amazing win, one minus old hands Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna, and at an Adelaide Oval at which the Saints had lost seven times without a single win.

That was the story with just 54 seconds left on the clock, the Port fans streaming out of the ground in droves. Even Aaron Young’s snapped goal to give the home side a sniff sparked little excitement.

But the single most decisive passage of the afternoon was also the most sublime. Jake Carlisle had been magnificent in defence all game for the Saints. His last, desperate clearing kick, which might have been pinged as deliberate out of bounds, was let go.

That left 19 seconds, with the ball on the half-forward flank, for a Port Adelaide miracle. Enter a dominant ruckman in Paddy Ryder, and a class on-baller in Robbie Gray.
Ryder flipped the ball seamlessly over his head at the throw-in. Gray ran on to it without losing stride. And from a step inside the 50, he let go, the shot just avoiding the despairing outstretched hands of Membrey on the line.

Port back in front. Just seven seconds left on the clock now. Game, set and match. A huge sigh of relief from the Power. And heartbreak for St Kilda, from whom that moment may also have spelt the end of any finals prospects.

Such an epic finish seemed unlikely indeed only a couple of hours earlier, as both teams managed just five goals and a stack of fumbles between them.

It took 12 minutes for the first goal of the game, St Kilda’s Jack Lonie perhaps fortunate to get a free kick for high contact after crouching into an oncoming Sam Powell-Pepper. The Saints might have had a couple more, too, Josh Bruce missing a couple of chances.

Port had started controlling the play by the end of that first term, but still looked destined to head to the break goalless. Until, for the Saints, a very costly last minute.

With just 44 seconds left on the clock, Justin Westhoff got his boot to a goal mouth scramble. And the ball had barely returned to the centre when that became two goals to the Power.

Jimmy Webster was prolific for the Saints off half-back, but dashing out of the scoring zone he fumbled, effectively forced to drop kick, the product heading straight to Karl Amon, whose left foot snap sailed straight through.

After a quarter of pretty solid and largely unrewarded toil, that could have been deflating indeed for the Saints. To their credit, however, they continued to toil away, and while it took another half-hour, this time it was they who managed to jag one just before siren time.

By then, Jarman Impey had already put Port 13 points up. But it was St Kilda who enjoyed the lions’ share of chances from that moment, failure to capitalise on them, as it has been for much of this season, its achilles heel.

Lonie missed a very gettable chance for a second. Jack Sinclair snapped a point, Jack Billings another couple, at which point the Saints tally was a miserable-looking 1.8. The drought-breaker, when it came, was unusual indeed.

Bruce launched himself at a long ball, just failing to control the mark and at the same time smashing into the point post. But the ball rebounded straight to an unattended Tim Membrey, who had no problem slotting the spills.

That was enough for the goal umpire, and a number of angles on the inevitable video review couldn’t clarify whether the ball had hit the post as well as Bruce’s arms. The goal stood, and with that, so did Port’s lead become a very tenuous three points.

It was no more than St Kilda deserved, having dominated inside 50s 17-12 for the term, and Port’s potential top four spot was under serious threat.

And the sniff of a chance indeed kept the flame of hope alive. Even when Port managed the only two goals of the third term while the Saints continued to miss chances.

Jared Polec, busy and skilful in difficult conditions, had the first. It took another 23 minutes of scramble for the next, a goalsquare snap by Jackson Trengove. And in conditions which had dried considerably but still presented their challenges, 13 points seemed a fair gap.

Yet, with just five seconds left on the clock, the Saints breathed again. A speculative hurried kick from a quiet Jack Steven found Blake Acres in front of Tom Jonas. His kick came after the siren. And a straight one made it seven points again.

Once more, the Power got a break, Jack Sinclair’s miscued kick-in gifting Brad Ebert a shot he duly converted. But after almost an entire game had yielded only four goals, the Saints got the next four in one hell of a rush.

Jade Gresham, thrown forward for a bit more bite, got one over the back after a searching run from Shane Savage. Sinclair redeemed his earlier error with a deft snap. Luke Dunstan, who’d been good all game, put the Saints in front. And Membrey seemingly sealed it after another St Kilda intercept.

But in a season full of similarly unlikely tales, this game delivered one of the more amazing twists yet.

The Saints will, rightly, be devastated, but should also be proud of this performance. Port, of course, has to aspire to something a lot better if it really is worthy of the top four spot it held come the final siren.

For now, though, the Power can enjoy the fruits of a game they for the most part controlled, surprisingly surrendered, then stunningly seized back one final time. And, perhaps, give a special vote of thanks to that Ryder-Gray combination.

PORT ADELAIDE 2.3 3.5 5.7 9.9 (63)
ST KILDA 1.3 2.8 3.12 8.13 (61)

GOALS – Port Adelaide: Westhoff, Amon, Impey, Polec, Trengove, Dixon, Ebert, Young, R Gray. St Kilda: Membrey 3, Lonie, Acres, Gresham, Billings, Dunstan

BEST – Port Adelaide: R Gray, Wines, Polec, Ryder, Byrne-Jones, Jonas. St Kilda: Dunstan, Carlisle, Ross, Roberton, Webster, Acres

Umpires: Stephens, Kamolins, Findlay

Crowd: 30,335 at Adelaide Oval

  1. you made no mention of the run of free kicks handed to st k in last qtr while a few obvious ones against them were not paid.
    the holding of robbie gray in goal square that wasnt paid made me wonder what as going on.
    best side won in end.
    the premiership winner wasnt present at adelaide oval this arvo

  2. Reckon this loss for the Saints was as devastating as they come – despite a 40 game per player experience delta, the Saints had this won locked and loaded, and were just awful in that last 100 seconds. Need to do better than that – look at the way the Hawks held out Sydney on Friday night. You cannot keep losing winnable games and rationalize the result by saying our blokes had a fair dinkum crack, and we were better than the previous 2 weeks. For goodness sake, close the deal and win the bloody thing!!!

  3. Have to admit we had the better of the umpiring, a rarity for us interstate. Even so there were plenty of decisions missed both ways &a PA got their share of soft frees.

    2 goals up with less than 2 minutes to go; no team should never lose from there. The Young goal came about from a 4 on 2 contest in our favourite, and not covering up the mercurial Robbie Gray at that stoppage bordered on criminal neglect. Our midfield should hang their collective heads in shame for that.

    Well done to PA; they kept coming right to the (for us) bitter end.

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