GIPPSLAND Power may have fielded one of its strongest sides on paper for the clash against the Murray Bushrangers on Saturday, but on field it was a different story.
The Power were overwhelmed in the final quarter after taking a four-point lead into the last change, to lose by 10 points in a tight contest.
Aloysio Ferreira, Connor Ambler, Tom Papley, Darnell Grech and Ryan Hearn returned to the Power line-up from minor injuries and Victorian Football League commitments, while Tyler Hillier was a late inclusion replacing the injured Nash Holmes.
The side was still missing captain Josh Dunkley due to his selection for Richmond in the VFL and Tate Marsh, Deven Costigan, Sam Skinner and Jari McDonald who are on the long-term injury list.
It did not take long for the Power to realise they faced strong opposition when the Bushrangers scored a goal shortly after the opening bounce.
The Power responded to the challenge by defending strongly and neither side kicked a goal for the next 10 minutes.
It took some determined pressure in the forward 50 to set up Will Leslie to score for the Power.
Both sides entered the break level on nine points.
The Power then eased off their normal intensive game plan and the Bushrangers were able to score three goals midway through the quarter.
With things looking grim, the Power went more directly into the forward area with Tom Papley creating the chance for Harry McKay to score a crucial goal.
Some excellent pressure by Todd Beck and Matt De Bruin allowed Jackson McMahon to put the side within seven points at the long break.
Some outstanding ball use and a goal from Ben Ainsworth put the Power back into the match.
Again the Power applied their special brand of intense pressure and Papley and Hobbs combined to allow De Bruin to use his pace to telling effect.
It took a snap by the Bushrangers to put them back in the contest, but the Power again responded to the challenge with more determined, team-oriented play.
However, they were unable to apply the most important form of pressure, via the scoreboard, and missed six opportunities to put themselves in the position their good play deserved.
They had dominated every key team statistic that mattered during the quarter but were only four points ahead by the last change.
On the 10-minute mark of the final term the Bushrangers scored a simple goal and kicked two more to put the issue beyond doubt.
The Power, in direct contrast, wasted chance after chance to get back into the game and kicked a further four points.
To make matters worse, the Bushrangers made a forward move to extend their lead, but a goal from De Bruin reduced the lead to 10 points by the final siren.
It chalked up another disappointing loss for the Power.
Gippsland managed only one goal and 10 points from 18 opportunities in the last term and just three goals from 33 entries for the second half.
The Bushrangers kicked five majors from 18 chances and this proved to be the telling difference.
However, Gippsland coach Leigh Brown and his assistants had a lot to be pleased with in terms of the boys’ application of the game plan and their ability to severely limit the impact of one of the competition’s best teams.
The inability to finish off so much good work is still a vital issue to be addressed.
The return of Dunkley is one key in this process and, hopefully, Holmes will be available to add his unique and intense level of competition to the mix for the rest of the season.
The Power next meet Geelong Falcons on Saturday at IKON Park, North Carlton.