Jeremy Howe, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Saturday, was one of the first-half catalysts for Melbourne's win
MELBOURNE almost lost the unloseable match at the MCG on Saturday night, conceding the last seven goals to the Western Bulldogs but hanging on to win by three points in a thriller.
The Demons led by 44 points after 13 minutes of the final term, but they fell in a heap as the Bulldogs nearly pulled off a robbery.
The final score was 15.13 (103) to 15.10 (100), with the Demons winning their second game of the season and their first against the Bulldogs since 2007.
Melbourne went back to basics and played the best football of its dire season for the first three quarters before the Bulldogs released the shackles.
The progression to a new look under Neil Craig was obvious in the caretaker coach's second game in charge.
The Demons kicked long, used the corridor and played on at every chance and when they didn't have the ball, every player had a man.
Jack Watts stood up, kicking a career-best four goals and taking a match-saving intercept mark in defence in the dying moments.
"I thought we were really good for three quarters in the contested part of the game, so it was good for our guys to feel the power of that, and our supporters to see the power of it," Craig said post-match.
"But we also felt the power the other way, clearly. We lost total control of the game.
"I thought the last minute and a half they remained really calm when we sent numbers behind the ball.
"There was good direction, there was good communication, and sometimes you can actually lose it all."
Craig would have been delighted with a number of his young players, with Dean Terlich (24 disposals), co-captain Jack Trengove (21) and Mitch Clisby (18) all impressive.
Tom McDonald and James Frawley gave the backline stability while Nathan Jones continued his superb season with 26 disposals and six clearances.
The Bulldogs' youngsters have shown their worth this season, but Saturday night's performance was a step backwards, despite the belated comeback.
Tom Liberatore fought a lone hand in the midfield for three quarters, finishing with 36 possessions (17 contested), 12 clearances and 11 inside 50s in a best-on-ground performance.
Veteran Daniel Giansiracusa started the game after being the substitute for his last four matches, kicking three goals, while Robert Murphy added his usual class behind the ball.
Midfielders Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen became more involved in the final term as the Bulldogs ran rampant, finishing with three goals each.
Ruckman Will Minson also took control of the game in the run home, winning 20 of his 51 hit-outs in the final quarter and kicking a controversial goal to cut the margin to eight points.
When Ayce Cordy converted the margin was just two points with less than two minutes to play.
"The disappointing thing is we took so long to actually play like that.
"The first three quarters clearly showed that when we don't all work together as a group and do the little things well, you can look very vulnerable.
"Parts of our game and parts of what we were doing were very disappointing."
Melbourne's Colin Sylvia fires out a handball ahead of Bulldog Tom Liberatore. Picture: AFL Media
MELBOURNE 3.5 8.8 12.12 15.13 (103)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.2 4.6 6.9 15.10 (100)
Melbourne: Watts 4, Dawes 3, Fitzpatrick 2, Howe 2, Jones, Gawn, Rodan, Blease,
Western Bulldogs: Giansiracusa 3, Griffen 3, Cooney 3, Cordy 2, Macrae, Dahlhaus, Minson, Dickson
Melbourne: Terlich, Trengove, Jones, McDonald, Watts, Frawley, Clisby
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Murphy, Giansiracusa, Minson, Griffen, Macrae
Melbourne: Blease (ankle)
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Melbourne: Shannon Byrnes replaced Sam Blease in the third quarter
Western Bulldogs: Lachie Hunter replaced Liam Jones in the third quarter
Umpires: Ryan, Ryan, Mollison
Official crowd: 21, 217 at the MCG