Highlights: Melbourne v Brisbane Lions
The Demons and Lions clash in round 17
Jack Grimes and Daniel Rich contest the footy at TIO Stadium in Darwin
A BRISBANE Lions side missing co-captain Jonathan Brown has had to battle hard to down Melbourne in a scrappy game in Darwin to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
The Lions started slowly but took control in the second term to set up their 13.16 (94) to 11.9 (75) win in warm, humid conditions that made ball-handling difficult.
It was the Lions' third straight win, which lifted them to seven wins and nine losses, but still two games plus a large percentage gap behind eighth-placed Port Adelaide.
Lions star forward Brown was a late pre-game withdrawal with a hip complaint.
"We made it tough for ourselves at times but we came for the four points and we got the four points."
And with the Lions also missing midfield keys Simon Black and former Demon Brent Moloney, Melbourne took advantage early, outscoring the Lions by nine points in the first quarter to create hope of an upset.
Melbourne big man Jack Fitzpatrick started the night strongly, kicking the night's opening goal from a free kick on his way to three majors for the first quarter.
A minor knee injury late in the term curtailed his influence, although he played out the game.
But the Lions' midfield took control in the second quarter, led by Tom Rockliff (34 disposals, seven clearances) and in-form Irishman Pearce Hanley (27 disposals, five clearances), while Andrew Raines kept Melbourne's best midfielder Nathan Jones quiet.
The Lions kicked five goals to one for the second term to lead by two majors at the long break.
Jones was shifted forward to start the second half, with instant effect, as he marked and goaled early to cut the margin to a goal.
In a stroke of bad timing, the Demons lost defender Colin Garland to an ankle injury midway through the third term, just minutes after they had subbed off first-year player Jimmy Toumpas, who had managed just two touches.
But Melbourne continued to fight, twice getting within five points, including once from a brilliant Chris Dawes goal after the big man gathered a ground ball, spun and snapped truly.
But a Brent Staker snap put the Lions 11 points clear at the last change.
And the Demons could manage just one goal in the last quarter, Fitzpatrick's fourth, with the Lions' Dayne Zorko opening the term with a three-bounce running goal and Brent Staker later sealing the win with a quality set shot for his third major.
Colin Sylvia (27 touches) and Jack Viney and Jack Watts (21 apiece) were Melbourne's top ball-winners.
Melbourne coach Neil Craig said Garland's injury was a blow, but he was reasonably satisfied with how the Demons performed.
"I haven't got an issue with our effort and our approach to the contest. But we were quite critical of our second quarter with our stoppage work and our movement out of defence," he said.
Colin Sylvia gets a kick away despite Josh Green's attempted tackle. Picture: AFL Media
MELBOURNE 5.1 6.5 10.7 11.9 (75)
BRISBANE LIONS 3.4 8.5 11.12 13.16 (94)
Melbourne: Fitzpatrick 4, Davey 2, Blease 2, Byrnes, Jones, Dawes
Brisbane Lions: Staker 3, Green 3, Merrett 2, Redden 2, Lisle, Mayes, Zorko
Melbourne: Viney, Sylvia, Davey, Byrnes, Grimes, Fitzpatrick
Brisbane Lions: Rockliff, Redden, Hanley, Merrett, Staker, Leuenberger, Green
Melbourne: Garland (ankle)
Brisbane Lions: Jonathan Brown (hip) and Mitch Golby by Jordan Lisle and Sam Docherty
Melbourne: Jimmy Toumpas replaced by Dean Kent in the third quarter
Brisbane Lions: Jordan Lisle replaced by Ryan Lester in the third quarter
Umpires: Findlay, Ryan, Fila
Official crowd: 7615 at TIO Stadium