'Under The Bonnet': How The Western Bulldogs Kept Their Season AliveLast updated: Aug 24, 2020, 4:47AM | Published: Aug 24, 2020, 4:22AM
The line is fine between a morale boosting victory and a season crushing defeat.
On Saturday afternoon at Metricon Stadium, the Western Bulldogs kicked six unanswered third quarter goals to run away with a 28-point win against Melbourne.
Yet those goals came despite having two fewer inside-50 entries than the Demons for the term, and speaks to how the Bulldogs set up their win.
With ball in hand, the Bulldogs are undoubtedly a great side. Going like the wind, especially in transition, they’re tough for all but the top-tier sides to stop. It’s whether their defensive structure can hold up that shapes as the week-to-week question.
Those two themes ran head to head in a pivotal quarter, and for this match at least, defence stood up with four of the Bulldogs’ six goals starting from their back half.
But each of those goals could quite easily have vanished into thin air if not for a sequence of vital events.
Let’s go through them, one by one:
Goal #1 Key Moments: Josh Bruce’s intercept mark and Lachie Hunter’s work rate
From 50 out on the boundary, Tom McDonald opts to lay up at the top of the square. From there, Melbourne’s objective is to either take a clean mark or more likely, attempt to lock it in.
Bruce, shifted into the ruck after half time, opts to fly for a clean mark of his own rather than spoiling the ball dead. A high-risk, high-reward move, it allows the Bulldogs to start rebounding quicker but also opens up the chance of a fumble and Demons swarming. But that doesn’t happen as Bruce marks cleanly.
Then, after a switch, Hunter gets on his bike and simply outworks Tom Langdon to get to the fall of the ball on the wing.
Without Hunter getting to this spot, the ball likely trickles out of bounds and all the momentum is lost.
Instead Hunter gathers, hits the underground handball to Marcus Bontempelli who then turns and finds Mitch Wallis inside-50. We’re already up to two moments which quite easily could have gone against the Bulldogs, but worked for them thanks to skill and work-rate.
Goal #2 Key Moments: Team effort to prevent Melbourne rolling forward
Sometimes there’s no chance for clean, highlight-reel ball movement. Play simply boils down to working hard enough to prevent opponents from running away with possession.
For the second goal from defensive half in the quarter, that’s what the Bulldogs had to do.
Three key moments allowed 50-50 contests to turn into a simple Bailey Smith goal.
This isn’t a consistent feature of the Bulldogs’ game; a fortnight ago against Brisbane there was a series of similar plays which led to a Lions second quarter mauling. Thankfully for the Bulldogs, it was much improved against Melbourne.
Goal #3 Key Moment: Jason Johannisen defending, then providing an outlet
On first glance it appears Johannisen is standing off the back of this pack, not doing a whole lot, and standing in no-man’s land:
But the point of that position is to prevent Melbourne from running out the front of the pack and bursting through for a shot on goal.
Part of Johannisen’s role is to help take away the run and force Melbourne into a rushed kick, which is exactly what Jack Viney does.
Ryan Gardner, playing in front of Sam Weideman, reacts quickest to the touched ball and gathers.
Instantly, Johannisen snaps back into his most damaging role and is in position to receive Gardner’s handball and clear defensive 50.
As quick as a click of the fingers, Johannisen’s shift from defensive to attacking mindset gives him the break on Demons and allows the space to find Laitham Vandermeer on the wing.
From there, the Bulldogs progress forward smoothly – but if Johannisen hadn’t carried out his roles to perfection, the likely result would have been a dump kick out of defensive 50 and Melbourne quickly regaining possession.
Goal #4 Key Moment: Creating an overlap
Whether this was intentional or not, only the Bulldogs players will know for sure.
Nevertheless, as Jake Melksham lines up for a set-shot, there is a noticeable overload on the far side of the ground.
Once Melksham misses, Bailey Williams quickly finds Hayden Crozier in the pocket and the ground immediately opens up.
Bruce smartly drops back to allow room for both Johannisen to drop in between the lines of defence and Vandermeer’s overlap.
From there, it’s training drill work for the Bulldogs, the full ground movement culminating in a dishevelled Demons defence and a simple Tim English mark 30 metres out from goal.
This play could have broken down in any number of ways – Williams looks the other way from the kick out, Crozier takes a different choice with his kick, Bruce doesn’t drop back; the list goes on and on.
Just like all these highlighted goals could easily have vanished into thin air if not for key actions along the way by important Bulldog actions. But they didn’t, and the win kept their season alive heading into a season defining fortnight.
Whether the Bulldogs can string this level of play together against Geelong and West Coast will be the true test of where this group deserves to sit in the AFL hierarchy.
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