Gippsland Power almost scored an upset victory away against second-placed Sandringham Dragons on Saturday, but the home team held on to record a 26-point victory.
The Dragons struggled to get their efficient running game going early due to the Power’s physical pressure.
However, eight goals to the Dragons in the third quarter killed off any hope of an unlikely Gippsland win.
Despite missing key players Tyrone Hayes, Deven Costigan and Kade Renooy, the Power were confident they could challenge the Dragons.
The return of captain Ben Ainsworth and the debut of Sale’s Brad Dessent after missing almost two years of TAC Cup football due to nagging injury helped bolster the Power’s ranks.
The Dragons kicked the first goal of the game after receiving a 50-metre penalty, but Gippsland replied with some excellent ball use by Austin Hodge, Corey Timms and Ainsworth allowing Trent Armour to convert a major.
The Power’s consistent application of intense pressure was causing the Dragons severe problems and this allowed Matt McGannon to win a free kick, helping his team to a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Earlier this season the Dragons destroyed the Power due to their dominant midfield.
Throughout that match the Dragons were able to win many easy possessions because of lack of pressure.
Since that game, the Power’s on-ball brigade has responded to coach Leigh Brown’s challenge to be competitive and, consequently, had been more competitive in every match, regardless of the teams’ respective ladder positions.
The need to be ready for the sort of problems the Dragons could create was seen early in the second term when skill and decision-making errors caused turnovers, leading to two Sandringham goals.
However, the Power responded and began to minimise the errors and limit the Dragons’ ability to get their running game going.
A strong Josh Patullo mark was matched by Nathan Voss who converted with a vital goal.
Callum Porter stepped in to get some positive play underway.
Clever forward Jai Rout linked up with Changkuoth Jiang and the pair found Aidan Quigley who finished off some fine team work.
By the long break, the Power still held on to a two-point lead but, more importantly, had responded well to the Dragons’ attempts to take control of the match.
Just when the coaches thought the boys had the right mind set, the Dragons went into overdrive and kicked four consecutive goals after exploiting many turnovers.
An intercept mark by Ainsworth allowed Matt McGannon to link up with Dessent who kicked his first TAC Cup goal.
Instead of building on this example of positive play, the Power gifted the Dragons with easy possessions they converted to three goals.
Rout rebounded with a crucial goal and the Power were again competitive.
They were dominating the contests and some great pressure allowed Dessent to kick a major and the scoreboard damage was looking less disastrous.
But to add to the Power’s frustration, the Dragons kicked another goal late in the term and went to the final break four goals up.
Things looked even worse early in the last quarter when the Dragons again exploited a turnover and it was time for the Power to up the ante to avoid another torrent of goals.
Will Stephenson was awarded a free kick and capped it off with a goal, but the Dragons kicked another major to extend their lead.
Once again McKeon was the one to throw himself into the action and his willingness to take the opposition on gave Dessent the chance to kick his third.
By the final siren, Sandringham had recorded a 13.12 (90) to 9.10 (64) win.
Closer analysis of the match statistics revealed the Power had won three quarters of the match and had been highly competitive against a side who had the potential to dominate the game.
Gippsland next meets league leader Geelong Falcons on Saturday, 23 July at 1pm at Morwell Recreation Reserve.
Sandringham Dragons 13.12 (90) defeated Gippsland Power 9.10 (64)
Goal kickers: Brad Dessent 3, Aidan Quigley, Will Stephenson, Matt McGannon, Nathan Voss, Trent Armor and Jai Rout 1.