IN A game defined by its skill errors more than its slick passages, it seemed fitting that the key moment of Geelong's win over St Kilda was delivered after a butchered kick from the Saints.
It was first (St Kilda) gamer James Frawley's attempt to clear the backline early in the last quarter that opened the floodgates for the Cats, with the veteran defender's smothered kick coolly grabbed by Sam Menegola who banged home the goal from near the boundary line.
Nothing better summed up the class differential between the sides, with the Cats booting the next two goals – one from the boundary line, the next an on-the-move ripper – to set up their 21-point win at Marvel Stadium on Friday night.
SAINTS v CATS Full match coverage and stats
The 10.8 (68) to 5.17 (47) victory was far from assured until the final term flex, with the Saints' wastefulness costing Brett Ratten's side from a genuine shot at its third consecutive win and to move ahead on the ladder ledger.
But they blew it, with the Cats, despite not playing their best throughout the game, able to grind out the win – their fourth from their past five games with their only defeat in that period a two-point loss to Sydney at the SCG.
Cam Guthrie deserves plenty of the credit for Geelong's win, with the All-Australian and reigning best and fairest stepping up in the second half and finishing with 36 disposals and a goal. Mitch Duncan was also terrific with 30 disposals, while Isaac Smith grew into the game with 27 and plenty of dash.
Brad Crouch was St Kilda's best with 28 disposals and five clearances while co-captain Jack Steele had seven clearances to go with his 23 touches, but the Saints will rue what could have been. They also will count the cost of the defeat, with ruckman Rowan Marshall going down with a suspected foot injury in the third term.
The story could have been so different. The Saints dominated the first quarter, but went into the opening break a goal behind due to their inaccuracy.
Simple misses to Marshall, Max King and then Tim Membrey in the opening minutes set the tone for a nervy Saints' line-up, which registered seven behinds without a goal in the first quarter. The Cats were more efficient but the scoreboard flattered Chris Scott's men, who showed vulnerable signs in defence.
It took the Saints two more behinds until they broke their drought after King converted his pack mark. It gave his side a shot of belief, with the Saints edging ahead when Dan Butler slotted his shot later in the second quarter.
St Kilda went into the main break with a slender three-point lead but had significant control on the contest, with Geelong under pressure throughout and a far cry from the side that steamrolled reigning premiers Richmond in the second half last week.
But the Cats' experience wrestled the game back on their terms in the third quarter, with their midfield, led by the in-form Guthrie, lifting and Duncan getting more involved. The overlap run of Geelong appeared, having been missing in action for the first half, and they took a five-point lead into the final term.
They extended from there, with St Kilda's inability to finish proving as costly as it looked like it would early in the game. It was death by a thousand misses, with Geelong beneficiaries of the self-sabotage near goal.
More injury concern for Saints
Rowan Marshall was substituted out of the clash in the third quarter with soreness in his foot, with the club choosing to take no risks with the important ruckman given his history with the injury over the pre-season. It looms as a real concern for the Saints given Marshall's hobble post-game. His exit from the game coincided with Geelong's charge, but the Saints were left one short when only moments later recruit Brad Crouch left the field to have a cheekbone injury assessed. Crouch missed the second half of the third quarter as he was checked in the changerooms but he returned from the dugout to play out the final quarter.
King's kicking in the spotlight
It wasn't a night Max King will look back on fondly. He missed his first two shots, which continued his wayward run this year, having entered the game having booted 12 goals and 13 behinds from seven games. He shrugged off the goalkicking yips to slot the Saints' first goal midway through the second quarter and was one of his side's key players in the first half with six marks. But he had some moments he would rather forget after the main break, including a fumble in space in the third term that likely would have resulted in a goal and another miss in the fourth term that saw him finish with 1.5 for the night – seeing him stretch his inaccurate run to 13 goals and 18 behinds this season.
Tuohy's long bomb
Geelong defender Zach Tuohy pulled out a party trick in the first term. Under the Marvel Stadium roof, Tuohy took one of the Cats' kick-ins, wandered out of the goalsquare and unleashed an enormous torpedo punt that travelled past the centre circle in the middle of the ground. As the kick took lift-off, the crowd's roar grew as the ball continued its rise and then descent, with the Cats nearly capitalising on the long bomb as they whisked the ball forward and Quinton Narkle missed a running shot at goal. Tuohy's kick-out was reminiscent of former long-kicking Cat Ben Graham's famous left-foot barrel that sailed past the centre line at Geelong.
ST KILDA 0.7 3.11 4.13 5.17 (47)
GEELONG 2.1 4.2 6.6 10.8 (68)
St Kilda: Membrey 2, Butler, King, Steele
Geelong: Close 2, Hawkins 2, Rohan 2, Cameron, C.Guthrie, Menegola, Narkle
St Kilda: Crouch, Ross, Billings, Sinclair, Membrey
Geelong: C.Guthrie, Tuohy, Duncan, Smith, Stewart, Close, Henderson
St Kilda: Marshall (foot)
Geelong: Dahlhaus replaced in selected side by Jordan Clark
St Kilda: Long (replaced Marshall in the third quarter)
Geelong: Holmes (unused)