A five-goal second-quarter burst handed Melbourne a healthy lead, with Port Adelaide showing similarities to their previous losses against the top four.
The Power (11-4, 124.4%) have gotten the job done against lower-quality opposition all year, but lost to the Bulldogs (currently first), Brisbane (third) and Geelong (fifth).
The Demons (12-3, 128.5%) in contrast have slipped up against lower-ranked sides, including defeats to Collingwood and GWS in the last month. With a loss tonight they could fall from first to fifth in the space of two weeks.
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QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT
There were no late changes for either side with Martin Frederick (Port Adelaide) and Tom Sparrow (Melbourne) the medical subs.
The Demons wore black armbands for the game in honour of former president Wayne Reid, who passed away aged 83.
Neither side was able to take advantage of their opportunities in the opening 10 minutes with Justin Leppitsch describing it as a “finals-like atmosphere” with intense pressure.
It took a towering pack mark from Luke Jackson and a converted set shot to give Melbourne the game’s first goal.
But the Power responded well with Karl Amon cleverly working his way through traffic and Ollie Wines sneaking one out of a contest for consecutive goals.
However it could have been a bigger lead after Sam Powell-Pepper made a bone-headed play, running into Christian Salem when play had stopped for the Demon giving away a free kick and 50-metre penalty, overturning the call.
“He gave away six points,” Justin Leppitsch said on commentary.
With a minute left a high tackle gave Charlie Spargo the chance to level the scores and he delivered, and Tom McDonald goalled seconds later to put the Demons back in front.
Melbourne led 3.2 (20) to 2.2 (14) at quarter-time.
Connor Rozee’s clean hands at ground level gave Port the first goal of the second term.
But the Dees defence struck twice in a row to set up majors; first a strong spoil set up some transition play ended by Christian Petracca.
Then great pressure off the kick-in forced a turnover which saw Kysaiah Pickett bang one home from 45-metres out.
Petracca’s second goal, a snap just out of reach of the Port defender, put the visitors up by 20 points.
Worryingly for the Power, they were losing the contested footy, just as they did in their other losses this season to top four sides.
And confusingly, star interceptor Aliir Aliir spent almost a quarter of the half in the ruck, and each time the Demons got over the top of the Port defence it felt like a worse gamble.
“I find it very, very strange … if you’re not going to play Peter Ladhams, use Charlie Dixon, and if you’re not going to use Charlie Dixon, play Peter Ladhams,” Mark Ricciuto said on Fox Footy.
A brilliant one-man effort from Bayley Fritsch then put the Demons up by 26 points.
But he lost a one-on-one to Aliir not long later when they were the lone men in the forward 50, and gave away a 50-metre penalty.
“Funny what happens when you put the right man in the right spot,” Leppitsch said.
The teams traded scores late in the term – including a costly 50-metre penalty against Tom Jonas – but Charlie Dixon got the last one, goalling after the siren to make it 8.4 (52) to 5.3 (33) Melbourne’s way at the long break.
A stunning Mitch Georgiades mark – over Max Gawn, if you don’t mind – lit up the early stages of the third quarter but he sprayed the set shot.
Minutes later he made amends, as another strong mark saw him kick truly for the half’s first major.
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This match got underway at 7:40pm EST from Adelaide Oval.
Watch it live on Fox Footy (channel 504), or stream it on Kayo.
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