A GOAL to Luke Breust in the final minute of play has given rank outsiders Hawthorn a share of the points in a thrilling draw with ladder leaders Melbourne.
Alastair Clarkson's 17th-placed side trailed by 27 points midway through the second term and looked gone for all money against the flag fancies.
DEMONS v HAWKS Full match coverage and stats
But the Demons were ultimately left to rue missed opportunities in the 11.13 (79) to 12.7 (79) draw, played in front of empty stands at the MCG amid Victoria's COVID-19 lockdown.
Angus Brayshaw and Kysaiah Pickett both had set shots in the final few minutes that could have sealed a win for Melbourne, before Breust pounced at the back of a pack at the other end.
Neither side could manage a score in the dying stages after the next centre bounce.
Brownlow Medal fancy Christian Petracca was outstanding for Melbourne, particularly in the first half, on his way to racking up 33 disposals, 23 contested possessions and nine clearances.
Clayton Oliver (34 disposals and eight clearances) and Jack Viney (32 and six) were also busy and Bayley Fritsch kicked three goals.
Breust kicked three goals and tall forward Mitchell Lewis added two in his first game back from several weeks on the sidelines through a concussion sustained in a boxing incident at training.
Melbourne kicked six of the first seven goals, with starting on-ballers Petracca, Viney and Oliver at the heart of their early dominance.
But the Hawks hit back and closed to within five points when James Worpel kicked the first goal of the second half, benefiting from a contentious 50-metre penalty against Max Gawn for running through the protected zone.
Hawthorn deserved to be close, pegging the margin back to one point moments before three-quarter time when Tom Mitchell finished a scrappy passage of play.
But it was the plucky Hawks who were arguably more impressive, taking it up to their highly-rated opponents in a spirited display.
Hawthorn's prolific on-baller Mitchell continued to rack up big numbers with 39 disposals and six clearances, while Worpel and Jaeger O'Meara were also influential.
They hit the front for the first time when Lewis kicked the opening goal of the final term with a set shot from the pocket, teed up by Tyler Brockman's neat distribution.
It was tight from there and a draw seemed a fitting result, though it could prove costly for Melbourne as teams jostle for finals spots near the top of the ladder
Clarko building a foundation for Sam Mitchell
Hawthorn went into Saturday’s game with one of the youngest line ups it has fielded for a long time. While there were still four premiership heroes running around they were well outnumbered by 11 players 23 or under, including three teenagers, plus third-game ruckman Ned Reeves thrown in at the deep end against Max Gawn. There may be plenty of theories on how Alastair Clarkson has taken to the club’s coaching succession plan, but there’s no doubt he is already working on leaving the list in its best possible shape for Sam Mitchell, whenever he takes the reins.
A demon that must be dealt with
As impressive as Melbourne's season has been, its three losses have come against Collingwood (16th), Adelaide (15th) and Greater Western Sydney (currently 11th), along with being pushed till very late by bottom-placed North Melbourne in round seven and now a draw with Hawthorn, who sit just one spot above the Roos. With only the Giants any chance of making finals, the pattern suggests a tendency to lose concentration at the worst possible time - not a sustainable trait come September
The Demons' dueling champions
Melbourne’s top-of-the-table season is riding on the back of an across-the-board team effort, one which could deny the Demons their first Brownlow medalist since Shane Woewodin saluted in 2000. Star midfield duo Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca both sit inside the top five of AFL.com.au’s Brownlow predictor, and both were excellent again against the Hawks, but whether one is favoured over the other by the umpires won’t be known until the Monday before Grand Final day. Max Gawn could be taking a vote or two away as well!
MELBOURNE 4.4 6.7 9.10 11.13 (79)
HAWTHORN 1.2 5.2 10.3 12.7 (79)
Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Pickett 2, Brayshaw, Brown, Hunt, McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Spargo
Hawthorn: Breust 3, Lewis 2, Howe, Koschitzke, McEvoy, Mitchell, Moore, Phillips, Worpel
Melbourne: Oliver, Viney, Petracca, Fritsch, Jordon, Gawn
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Breust, O'Meara, Worpel, McEvoy
Hawthorn: Conor Nash (isolation) replaced in selected side by James Cousins,
Melbourne: Tom Sparrow (unused)
Hawthorn: Jai Newcombe (unused)