Gather Round folks, the Crows are too plain, too sloppy and too predictable

The pressure that was on Adelaide heading into Thursday night’s Gather Round opener will only intensify now. That’s the reality of being winless in a two-team, one-newspaper, footy-mad town. After last week’s loss, the back page of the local rag had them trudging off under the headline “Easter Bunnies”. They were better on Thursday, and far from disgraced against a well-organised and defensively sound Melbourne. But the problems that have plagued them all season were still evident – the dinky nine irons, the sideways kicks, the plain midfield, the stodgy ball movement, the determination to make life as easy as possible for the opposition interceptors.

Their deficiencies are well-documented. But their biggest problem was their opponent. Oh, for an easy kill. Instead, they drew a very accomplished, in-form Melbourne, a team fresh off a win over Port Adelaide, and whose strengths were always going to trouble them. The Crows have been unable to circumnavigate the better intercept defenders so far this year. They served up a feast to Tom Stewart against Geelong, while Freo’s Alex Pearce and Luke Ryan picked them off repeatedly on Good Friday. You can’t bomb and hope against Melbourne. Their entire system is designed to gobble up sloppy forward forays. You have to be smart, keep your head, work your angles, and pick your holes. At various stages, the Crows did that. But too often they blasted, and Steven May and Jake Lever, with a dozen intercept marks between them, did the rest. With his broken ribs, May was as resolute as ever. He’s the goalkeeper, the organiser, the thumper, the thwarter, and the toughest of opponents.

The other problem was Melbourne’s on-ball brigade. There’s such a good mix and considerable depth in that Demons’ midfield, two things that are conspicuously lacking at the Crows. They have solid, consistent midfielders who rack up good numbers. But they’re all versions of the same footballer. The only one with a real point of difference, Jordan Dawson, has been clamped down on this year and has been unusually tardy by foot, though he played a fine game last night. But Christian Petracca was a class above. He’s giving a cooking demonstration at Central Market today and gave a footballing masterclass last night. He’s probably the best player in the country right now. There’s certainly no harder player to tackle.

The Dees have also found a serious talent in Caleb Windsor. His ability to weave in and out of traffic, gather loose balls and take on and pull off risky kicks is remarkable for a player of his age. He moves like a young Craig Bradley. Harley Reid’s had more column inches devoted to him than Bruce Lehrmann but Windsor may end up being the steal of that draft at pick seven.

But in a round devoted to all things South Australia, the Crows are the story. Their win in Gather Round last year was a jolly romp. It was hypercharged, all-out attack and it was over halfway through the first quarter. It was the moment they popped after the indignity of the early rebuild years. But they’ve stalled. They averaged nearly 16 goals a game last year. This year, it’s just over nine. They selected too many talls in the wet against Gold Coast, spent the night kicking to the Cats a week later, and never looked like scoring against Fremantle in a turgid game last week. They had a lot more looks at it on Thursday, but were too lairy and too inclined to bomb.

The normally positive Matthew Nicks was a frustrated coach last night. The structure was sound, he insisted, but the execution and decision making were poor, and the ball movement was glacial. It’s a slog from here. Of the 162 teams in the history of the VFL/AFL who dropped their first four games, only five ended up playing finals. Having been on a steady upward trajectory for several years now, they’ve flatlined. It’s the sort of correction most rebuilding sides experience. Melbourne is a team that shows you exactly where you’re at and the Crows got their answer – too plain, too sloppy and not yet ready to contend.

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