‘Vanilla’ Crows in freefall after latest flop; ‘classy’ Dees boost flag fancy status as flaw fixed: 3-2-1


Melbourne has strengthened its premiership credentuals credentials, notching its second win in five days at Adelaide Oval — and fourth victory on the trot — after holding off a fast-finishing Crows outfit in the Gather Round opener.

A Demons blitz either side of half-time proved to be the difference, with Melbourne finishing the first half with three straight goals before Bayley Fritsch roared to life at the start of the third quarter to set up a 33-point lad midway through the third term.

The Crows fought back hard and threatened late with four of the last five goals of the game, but ultimately fell 15 points short, Melbourne winning 10.18 (78) to 8.15 (63).

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Christian Petracca was brilliant with 29 disposals, 15 contested possessions, eight clearances, sveen inside 50s, six tackles and one goal, while Jacob van Rooyen and Kysaiah Pickett kicked two goals each.

For Adelaide, Jake Soligo played arguably his best game for the Crows with 27 disposals and 14 contested possessions.

Melbourne now sits on top of the ladder after its fourth straight win, while Adelaide’s horror start to 2024 continued, now sitting 0-4.

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There were no late changes for either side, with Sam Berry (Adelaide) and Taj Woewodin (Melbourne) named the starting subs.

The Dees struck first, with Harry Petty kicking the first goal of the game after converting s et-shot via a holding free kick.

Melbourne star Steven May had an early influence on the contest, taking three intercept marks in the first quarter.

Opposed to Adelaide veteran Taylor Walker, May was seen in visible pain after some contests — clearly still feeling the effects of cracked ribs 12 days ago.

“You’ve brought this injury into the game, so you’re fair game from that point on. I wonder why there’s no physical attention given to May after they can clearly see he was affected by that first contest,” Fox Footy’s David King said.

The Crows finally kicked their first goal midway through the first term, thanks to a brilliant gather and snap from Izak Rankine.

Adelaide dominated territory and clearance in the first term, but were inefficient in front of goal. A late first-quarter goal to Darcy Fogarty, though, ensured the Crows held a five-point lead at the first change.

Melbourne then kicked the first major of the second term, thanks to a brilliant smother from Tom Sparrow that saw the ball spill to Christian Petracca, who pulled off a classy snap goal.

“It’s been a tough old arm-wrestle so far and it needed something like that to break things open a little bit … a telling moment, “ Channel 7’s Alister Nicholson said.

Rankine was looking ominous for the Crows, pulling off a stunning kick to set up a Rory Laird set-shot goal to give Adelaide the lead.

But the Dees hit back late, with three consecutive goals to finish the second term and earn a 17-point lead at half-time.

“Melbourne a couple of times have just had that little bit of class and polish to find a mark inside 50 and transition the ball from the back half,” Saints champion Leigh Montagna told Fox Footy.

King added: “The Crows again look a little bit vanilla.”

Melbourne’s late blitz was soured by an incident that will draw MRO scrutiny, with Kysaiah Pickett to face a nervous wait after making contact with Jake Soligo.

“It’s just a dumb thing to do. He’s reaching for contact … and then the onus is on you to miss the head. He’s in trouble,” King said.

After just two handballs in the first half, Bayley Fritsch roared to life in the third term, kicking three goals as the Dees kicked out to a 33-point lead.

The Crows continued to keep within striking distance via goals to Taylor Walker, Darcy Fogarty and Ben Keays. But every time the Crows challenged, the Dees had a response and led by 28 points at three quarter-time.

After seven consecutive Crows behinds, skipper Jordan Dawson stood tall close to goal, taking a towering mark and converting a set-shot to cut the Demons’ lead to 22 points.

And when Josh Rachele snapped his first, the Crows were within 15 points.

“They are back in business … the belief is building,” Channel 7’s Brian Taylor said.

But the Demons stood up in defence late to hold off the fast-finishing Crows and register a 15-point win.

THE 3-2-1 …

3. TOP-OF-THE-LADDER DEES COMPLETE PERFECT ADELAIDE ROAD TRIP

Melbourne should be all about Gather Round, given the location.

Having beaten Port Adelaide last week, the Demons on Thursday night completed a perfect 2-0 road trip at Adelaide Oval – claiming their fourth-straight win overall to improve to 4-1 and currently sit first on the ladder.

The Demons again held on at the death to show nerves of steel when Adelaide surged home late.

So are we looking at the deserving premiership favourites?

After overcoming a host of off-field distractions in recent months, it was yet another impressive win from Simon Goodwin’s side, controlling the game for most of the night – and really breaking it open late in the second quarter.

“This is what we’ve come to expect from Melbourne, but the additional element over the summer is their offence and ability to spread the ball out and be more efficient going inside 50,” St Kilda legend Leigh Montagna told Fox Footy.

Having such layers in Melbourne’s game of knowing when to play quick and slow is such an impressive trait and a reflection of a truly elite side.

“It’s a really even struggle, just until the last couple of minutes when Melbourne got a bit of a run on. They got a loose player out the back to create some space and managed to slam on a few goals – and that’s basically the difference in the game,” Hawks champion Jason Dunstall told Fox Footy.

Montagna pointed out the impact Christian Petracca (29 disposals, one goal, six tackles) and Alex Neal-Bullen (18 touches) had on the game in a dangerous double act forward of centre.

“Melbourne a couple of times have just had that little bit of class and polish to find a mark inside 50 and transition the ball from the back half,” Montagna said on Fox Footy.

On Petracca, Montagna said: “It’s consistent high quality football he now plays week-in, week-out. In a game that’s been really scrappy, he’s stood out with his class. He looks a class above. His inside and outside game is strong, he’s hit the scoreboard …he’s had clearances. I just love the way he leads from the front.”

Dual premiership Kangaroo David King meanwhile highlighted how Petracca’s first half disposals were won in the front half and that he went at 80 per cent kicking efficiency in the forward half, saying “his ball use is the separating factor.”

Up next? Melbourne hosts the currently winless Lions at the MCG before having a bye in Round 6.

2. CROWS FALL TO 0-4, UNDERWHELM ON GATHER ROUND STAGE

After some competitive and promising patches from the Crows, the home side was simply outclassed and outmatched by the Demons in the end.

With it, Adelaide remains winless on the season at 0-4 as questions will come hard and fast on the club in the aftermath ahead of games against Carlton (away), Essendon, North Melbourne (in Tasmania, where it nearly lost last year), Port Adelaide, Brisbane and Collingwood (away) to come.

Any chance of a top four finish is essentially completely gone. Even a top eight push seems extremely unlikely, since just six of 159 teams in VFL/AFL history to start 0-4 have played finals, and at best, they’re likely looking at a 3-7 record heading towards the byes.

So where did it all go wrong on Thursday night?

For one, Adelaide fans will be wondering where the exciting dare, ball movement and competitive edge in the last quarter was all night, often playing too passive without that same energy we saw late.

While you’ve got to credit the quality of their opposition for clamping them, the Crows again struggled in several areas when the game was at its hottest.

During a period between the second and third quarters, Matthew Nicks’ side conceded six of the last seven goals as Melbourne effectively put a big enough dent on the scoreboard it never let up thereafter.

Kangaroos legend David King on Fox Footy highlighted the Crows “again look a little bit vanilla” and questioned the midfield’s inability to influence the game in a significant way.

“Again it’s the midfield of the Adelaide Crows. Their responsibility is to handle that situation, they knew it was coming, they would’ve planned for this and scoped out,” King said.

Of course, the down showing from the Crows came in the Opening Round opener stage, where they’ll be left ruing not putting in a bigger showing in its home city.

That mauling of Carlton this time last year suddenly feels like an eternity ago.

Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall pointed out that Nicks’ side lacked “class” and overall polish around the ground.

“When they’re transferring the ball from defence, from chains, going forward, getting it inside 50. They’re often just the wrong kicks,” Dunstall said on Fox Footy.

“They’ve got to give their forwards a better chance. They just need to be more creative and decisive.”

1. ‘WHY WAS THERE NO PHYSICAL ATTENTION?’ GREAT’S MAY QUERY

Steven May’s return after just one game on the sidelines with broken ribs raised some eyebrows.

And after looking “ginger” early during Thursday night’s contest, Fox Footy pundits have questioned whether the Crows put enough “physical attention” into the star defender.

May in the opening term took a big outstretched grab in front of Taylor Walker then grimaced in pain afterwards, suggesting he wasn’t 100 per cent.

“That is the risk Melbourne has taken,” Channel 7’s Alister Nicholson pointed out.

May would go on to have a strong impact in Melbourne’s defence, which held up well all night long, with the dual All-Australian backman racking up 19 disposals and nine marks.

“He has looked gingered, we spotted it really early,” dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna said on Fox Footy at quarter-time.

May wasn’t the only Demon that went into the game underdone, with Clayton Oliver (16 disposals) also seemingly bothered by a finger injury and well down on form.

Though it mattered not in the end, did the Crows miss a trick by not going after May more?

“You’ve brought this injury into the game, you’re fair game from that point on. I just wonder why there was no physical attention given to May after they could see he was affected by that first contest?,” Kangaroos legend David King posed on Fox Footy.

Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall highlighted that a player carrying a niggle throughout the week can’t properly test it out until game day.

“I think the interesting part is … you do a bit of pushing and shoving and wrestling (at training), but until you’re actually jumping into packs and marking and having players jumping into you under the conditions and match pressure during game time, that’s when you really get exposed for how sore is it,” he said.

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