Marcus Bontempelli couldn't get his hands on the footy in the first half.
In the opening quarter he struggled to shake off the attention of an unlikely tag in Melbourne veteran Jordan Lewis. Ten minutes in he even took a superb contested mark 15 metres out from goal, played on and muffed his shot after being shoved off his kick by Christian Salem.
Dishing it off: Marcus Bontempelli slips away from Demon Jay Lockhart.Credit:AAP
Then, in the second term Bontempelli limped off after his left ankle became trapped underneath the prone body of Demons opponent Nathan Jones.
But in the third quarter he returned to the field and helped spark the Bulldogs to life with eight disposals, five of them contested. In the final quarter, the goal that effectively sealed victory came when Bontempelli patted the bouncing Sherrin into the turf like a basketball guard dribbling down court, and managed to get the football into the hands of youngster Bailey Smith, who kicked a running goal to make the margin 16 points.
Dynamic: Josh Dunkley kicks on under pressure from Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw.Credit:AAP
Bontempelli was by no means best afield in this thrilling contest. That honour belonged to midfield teammate Josh Dunkley, who finished with 39 disposals and two crucial goals on an afternoon when scoring was at a premium.
And small forward Sam Lloyd also played a crucial role, kicking two goals of his own and setting up two others with clever and skilful kicks to advantage.
In truth the Bulldogs should have put the match out of Melbourne's reach in the third quarter. During that period the Dogs dominated play, with the ball practically camped in their forward half, but they failed to capitalise, peppering their shots for 1.8 as well as a couple of shots that failed to score.
For much of the match this was a battle between contrasting styles, with neither managing to get enough of an upper hand to split the game open – on four separate occasions the team drew level on the scoreboard.
Melbourne often controlled the clearances, with ruckman Max Gawn monstering his inexperienced opponent, Tim English – so much so that undersized toiler Jackson Trengove was sent to ruck in the second half, and the Demons' contested-footy bulls – Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver and James Harmes – frequently getting their hands on the ball first.
Against that, the Demons continually failed to use the ball effectively when driving it into attack or struggled to manufacture a set shot in the forward 50, where they had to work hard for their goals, usually through unconventional avenues. Five of their first seven goals came from a variety of sources – first up a soccer in the goalsquare, then three questionable free kicks and a diving chest mark that replays showed actually hit the turf.
Flat out: Bailey Williams gets boot to ball after being taken down by Demon Neville Jetta.Credit:AAP
The Dogs, on the other hand, were prepared to apply pressure and tackle to win the footy in contested play – most notably through Josh Dunkley -but did most of their damage when they worked the ball to the outside, where the likes of Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter and Taylor Duryea could compose themselves and set up their progress down the field.
For the first time in the post-Jesse Hogan era the Demons lined up without Tom McDonald as a key marking option in the front half.
And in the absence of injured trio Jake Melksham, Sam Weideman and Jeff Garlett, the Demons had to take the field with a motley, makeshift and undersized forward line.
Fall-back forwards: Jayden Hunt of the Demons (right) celebrates a goal with teammate Christian Petracca.Credit:AAP
The forward six included the resting ruckman, an unlikely leading goalkicker this season in Jayden Hunt (19 goals), the mercurial Christian Petracca and a 19-year-old with an archetypal Dees name, Harrison Petty.
In the second quarter, with the Dogs leading by seven points, Josh Dunkley produced one of the tackles of the season.
With the Demons streaming through half forward, Clayton Oliver dished off a handpass to Angus Brayshaw, who charged into the forward 50 looking an absolute certainty to kick a goal and reduce the margin to a point.
Instead Dunkley put his head down, sprinted 10 metres and hammered Brayshaw's hips, winning a free kick for holding the ball.
He has never managed to crack it before, but surely this is the year that Jack Macrae breaks through to gain All-Australian selection and win a Charlie Sutton Medal.
Coming into this match he had racked up more disposals since round 12 than any other player in the league. and was in the top five for the season.
Best of the best: Bulldog Jack Macrae gets tackled by Mitch Hannan of the Demons.Credit:AAP
Macrae was again prolific, finishing with 30 possessions, but it is the way he uses the ball that is so damaging and makes him such a headache for opposition teams.
3.3 6.5 7.13 10.14 (74)
3.2 6.4 7.7 9.12 (66)
GOALS – Western Bulldogs: Dunkley 2, Smith 2, Lloyd 2, Smith, Richards, Schache, Hunter.
Melbourne: Petty 3, Fritsch 2, Petracca, Hunt, Lewis, Dunkley.
BEST – Western Bulldogs: Dunkley, Lloyd, Macrae, Hunter, Bontempelli, Duryea.
Melbourne: Salem, Viney, Petracca, Gawn, Petty, May.
UMPIRES: Dalgleish, Mitchell, Williamson.
CROWD: 26,871 at Marvel Stadium.
J.Dunkley (WB) 9
S.Lloyd (WB) 8
C.Salem (Melb) 8
J.Macrae (WB) 7
J.Viney (Melb) 7
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