ST KILDA has staged a historic comeback at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, overturning a 55-point deficit to overrun the Western Bulldogs by seven points.
The Saints found themselves 55 points down early in the third term, but remarkably kicked 12 goals to the Bulldogs three in the second half to run out victors 14.10 (94) to 13.9 (87).
The win equaled the fifth biggest comeback in AFL/VFL history, and equaled the Saints biggest ever come-from-behind win in its history. The last time the Saints came back from a 55 point deficit and won was in 1937 against Hawthorn at Glenferrie Oval.
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In-form St Kilda midfielder David Armitage was outstanding, in his side's second win for the season. The 26-year-old had a career-high 45 possessions (16 contested) and eight clearances.
Jack Billings was the catalyst for the Saints’ incredible turn around, kicking four second-half goals, and finished with 22 disposals and seven inside-50s.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson admitted after the game he was stunned by how the game played out in the second half.
"We didn't see it coming," he said.
"We were looking for just an enormous lift in our physicality and our care for our teammates at half time. That was almost the message.
"It was really blokes digging in and being much more physical and more aggressive.
"To get over the line in a tight win, not that it was tight until later really, they were pretty proud of being able to turn it around and the manner in which they did it."
The loss will be even harder to take for the Bulldogs following what appeared to be a third serious knee injury to luckless midfielder Clay Smith.
Smith returned to the Bulldogs' senior side just two weeks ago, following two right knee reconstructions in a 12-month period.
Just seconds before the half-time siren, the 21-year-old was leading towards the ball when his right knee buckled underneath him. Visibly distressed, Smith was immediately stretchered off. Earlier in the second term he appeared to jar his right knee near the boundary line, but after being assessed by club medical staff returned to the field.
Up until that moment, everything seemed to be going right for the Bulldogs, who had overwhelmed the Saints with relentless pressure and attack on the ball in the opening half.
A seven goal second term from the Bulldogs, to the Saints one behind, gave Luke Beveridge's side lead by a commanding 49 points at half time.
They dominated the inside-50s 40 to 17 in the opening half, as well as the contested possession (81 to 58) and clearances (22 to 16).
When Jake Stringer kicked his fourth goal of the match, three minutes into the third term to put the Bulldogs ahead by 55 points, it seemed as though the Saints were done.
But remarkably they fought on.
Led by Armitage, Billings and Montagna the resurgent Saints kicked seven unanswered goals in the third term to reduce the deficit to just 12 points at three-quarter time.
WATCH: Billings comes up big
By this time the Saints had restricted the run of Bulldogs' skipper Bob Murphy, Liam Picken and Jason Johannisen. They also won the contested ball 21 more times than the Bulldogs' in the second term (78 to 57), and stepped up their pressure (27 second-half tackles to 18).
The tiring Bulldogs jumped out of the blocks in the final term with quick goals to Ayce Cordy and Mitch Honeychurch but they couldn't hold on to their 24-point lead.
Consecutive goals to Jack Billings put the Saints within 11 points, 13 minutes into the last quarter.
Sub Jack Sinclair goaled four minutes later to cut the Bulldogs' advantage back to five points before ruckman Tom Hickey stood tall to put the Saints in front for the first time since the opening 30 seconds of the game.
Fittingly it was Billings who put the result beyond doubt with three minutes remaining.
The Saints held on to record a historic victory, leaving Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge wondering where it all went wrong.
"It was the agony and the ecstasy really," Beveridge said after the game.
"We had a good first half and then it was the polar opposite really in the second half. We couldn't keep the ball in our forward line and we got beaten at the source.
"We gave the ball up a bit too easy and that was due to St Kilda's pressure and their ability to rebound.
"We just didn't have the same energy on the second half as we did in the first half."
Saints midfielder Shane Savage was subbed out of the game, following a knock to the head in the second term, but Richardson said he appeared to be fine after the match.
A scuffle on half-time may have helped swing the momentum the Saints' way. Picture: AFL Media
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 10.3 11.6 13.9 (87)
ST KILDA 2.2 2.3 9.6 14.10 (94)
Western Bulldogs: Stringer 4, Picken 2, Goodes, Stevens, Wood, Crameri, Dahlhaus, Cordy, Honeychurch
St Kilda: Billings 4, Sinclair 2, Hickey 2, Schneider, Riewoldt, Lonie, Dunstan, Bruce, Armitage
Western Bulldogs: Picken, Stringer, Johannisen, Dickson, Macrae, Goodes Wood
St Kilda: Armitage, Billings, Steven, Schneider, Fisher, Newnes, Sinclair
Western Bulldogs: Smith (right knee)
St Kilda: Savage (head)
Western Bulldogs: Lachie Hunter replaced Clay Smith (right knee) at half time
St Kilda: Jack Sinclair replaced Shane Savage (concussion) at quarter time
Umpires: Farmer, Stephens, Schmitt