Demons turn up the heat in defeat of Power
JUST when Melbourne's run to the finals appeared shaky, Simon Goodwin's men pull out a finals-like effort against a finals-bound opponent.
And the cornerstone of this credential-boosting 13.10.88 to 9.11.65 victory over Port Adelaide was a strength that could help the Demons feature deep into September, according to Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy.
The Demons produced a comprehensive first-half performance then held off a Travis Boak-inspired Power to claim a crucial victory at the MCG.
Melbourne led by 43 points deep into the second term, before the Power launched a gallant comeback to draw within 16 points in the latter stages of the fourth term.
But late majors to Jake Melksham and Christian Petracca released the pressure valve for the Demons to see them jump up to fifth on the AFL ladder.
The win was set up by Melbourne's incredible first-half display, which was highlighted by its ability to outnumber the Power at the contest.
Despite missing walk-up midfielders Bernie Vince and Nathan Jones, the Dees - ranked 18th for contested ball differential across the previous four games - annihilated the Power - ranked first in the same stat across the same timeframe - at the coalface.
At half-time, the Dees led the contested possession (+21) and clearance (+15) counts, which led to territory dominance, winning time in forward half (64 per cent to 36 per cent) and inside 50s (+19).
Fox Footy analyst David King noted that Melbourne's pressure around the ball was "first-class", while fellow commentator Gerard Healy said the Dees were "putting in a clinic" around stoppages.
"It's incredible and it could take them all the way to the big finals in a couple of months' time," Healy said of Melbourne's ability to outnumber the Power.
"The team pressure around the ball that has been a great highlight. You can have any spot on the ground and any passage you like and Melbourne has seemed to have more numbers.
"There seems to have been more of the red and the blue, which has given them a chance to go at the ball-carrier and of it spills out it gives players a chance to get the loose ball. And when they get the loose ball, they're off to the races. Their ability to keep (the ball) is first-class.
"I've got no doubt if things fell for them, they could go all the way to the last weekend (of September)."
Leading superbly from the front was co-skipper Jack Viney, whose courage to actually play after hurting his plantar fascia was matched by his tenacity to win the contested ball.
Any questions over Viney's fitness were doused early in the game, when the on-baller had 12 disposals, six contested possessions and four clearances to his name by quarter-time.
"Port need to think about sending someone to Viney to tag him - he's been quite unbelievable," Healy said.
Most importantly, when Viney and his fellow Dees won the footy, they made the most of their opportunities, led by their brilliant ball movement and a forward line that functioned superbly.
Jesse Hogan looked back to his best with three goals, while Melksham (three goals), Petracca (two) and Jeff Garlett (two) all chipped in. Hogan in particular put his stamp on the game early with two majors in the first term.
Ruckman Max Gawn showed glimpses of his 2016 All-Australian form, racking up 12 disposals and 33 hit-outs - of which 13 went to the advantage of a teammate.
"When he goes forward and starts taking marks, that's all his work. He's been phenomenal," Healy said of Gawn.
However the Demons didn't have it all their own way.
After failing to kick a goal for the first 53 minutes of the game, the Power broke through in the second half, primarily thanks to their best players.
Coach Ken Hinkley spun the magnets and it paid some dividends. Robbie Gray went into the middle and finished with a team-high 31 disposals, while skipper Boak (four goals, 24 disposals) willed his team back into the contest.
However it was too little too late for Port Adelaide, with its back six showing signs of fragility throughout the game.
To rub salt into the wounds for Port, superstar Chad Wingard copped an injury in the third term and was quickly put in cotton wool, finishing the game on the bench with ice on his ankle.
But ultimately, the day belonged to the Demons, whose premiership credentials were boosted significantly.
And they've still got Vince and Jones to come back.