AN INSPIRED performance by young star Max King was not enough to drive St Kilda past West Coast, with the Eagles holding on to win an entertaining battle by eight points at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
King produced a contested marking masterclass and booted a career-high six goals, threatening to steal the match late as he dominated the air and booted three final-quarter goals.
EAGLES v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
But the Eagles steadied when they needed to, with midfielder Dom Sheed twice answering King's heroics with running goals of his own to secure the win, 14.10 (94) to 13.8 (86).
The win gives West Coast important momentum in what has been a stop-start season and allows it to tighten its grip on a top-eight spot by seeing off one of its challengers.
The Eagles also re-established their form at home, having lost back-to-back matches at Optus Stadium to leave their season delicately balanced.
It wasn't a return to their best, but the Eagles were good enough to hold their opponents at arms' length for most of the match and they produced some periods of dominance upon which they can build.
Jack Darling returned to form with three goals, with sidekick Josh Kennedy kicking three of his own after a one-week absence due to a calf issue.
Midfielder Tim Kelly (26 disposals and a goal) stepped up in the absence of injured captain Luke Shuey to spark the midfield and spearhead a second-quarter surge with 13 disposals and five inside 50s for the term.
Sheed got better as the game went on and was a key to the victory with a game-high 32 possessions and seven clearances to go with his two goals, while Elliot Yeo (24 and nine clearances) did much of the grunt work.
Leading by one point after a tight opening, the Eagles made their move in a decisive second quarter as their aggressive ball movement and clean kicking skills overwhelmed the Saints.
Kelly led the charge out of the midfield and Jamie Cripps was the perfect link player at half forward, working hard up the ground to mark and then delivering inside 50 with class.
Their ability to move the ball with speed and hit targets in attack was what separated them from the honest but less polished Saints, with both teams going into attack 27 times in the first half but West Coast having 14 scoring shots to the Saints' six.
King's ability to take contested marks and convert from long range kept his team in the contest, and when he kicked his third goal early in the third quarter the margin was 27 points.
Then West Coast defender Josh Rotham got a horror bounce when running out of defence, allowing Dan Butler to swoop and kick another from the goalsquare, cutting the margin to 20.
Rotham was outdone minutes later when Saint Ben Long missed a simple shot close to the goalline, kicking the ball into the goal umpire, who was up against the post.
A set shot from Darling after the siren extended the margin to 25 points, leaving the Saints with too much work to do in the final quarter, even if King threatened to do it all himself.
King of the pack
A confident King leapt at everything that came his way on Saturday and marked it most of the time. His six goals all came from contested marks, taking eight in total, and the Saints adjusted their play in the second half to go long and direct to the 21-year-old at every chance. King's confidence was obvious to see and he converted from long range three times in an excellent display of set shot kicking. The Eagles started with young defender Harry Edwards on him but needed to adjust and moved Jeremy McGovern into the role late. The Eagles too often tried to mark against King instead of spoiling, with the young star's strong hands showing them up every time.
Gov joins ruck battle as Saints miss Marshall
The Eagles have been unable to settle on their favoured ruck combination all season and they had a new look on Saturday with defender Jeremy McGovern assisting Nic Naitanui. In his 150th game, McGovern took some centre bounces and held his own around the ground to finish with nine hit-outs, with young star Oscar Allen swinging into defence to cover him when needed. The Saints, meanwhile, relied heavily on Paddy Ryder with Rowan Marshall missing due to quarantine requirements. The veteran was impressive at stoppages against Naitanui, finishing with 27 hit-outs, but the Saints remain a significantly better team with Ryder and Marshall working in tandem. Saturday's result took their season tally to 3-8 when they don't have both big men playing together.
Ryan shines before hamstring setback
Liam Ryan could hardly have been more influential early before suffering a left hamstring injury halfway through the first quarter. He was the calm in the chaos that set up Josh Kennedy's opening goal, and he got free out the back to kick the Eagles' second before clutching at his left leg as he turned to celebrate. Sidelined with a shin injury earlier this season, he was a dejected figure on the bench as medical substitute Jarrod Brander warmed up for his first game since round 11. Brander, who impressed earlier this season before suffering a back injury, went forward immediately to cover Ryan, giving the Eagles a tall front half.
WEST COAST 2.2 8.6 11.7 14.10 (94)
ST KILDA 2.1 4.3 7.6 13.8 (86)
West Coast: Kennedy 3, Darling 3, Sheed 2, Ryan, Cripps, Kelly, Naitanui, Waterman, Langdon
St Kilda: King 6, Butler 2, Sinclair, Billings, Ryder, Hunter, Membrey
West Coast: Sheed, Kelly, Kennedy, Cripps, Darling, Yeo, Naitanui, Hurn
St Kilda: King, Jones, Butler, Ross, Sinclair, Ryder, Hill
West Coast: Ryan (hamstring)
St Kilda: Nil
West Coast: Brander (replaced Ryan)
St Kilda: Cooper Sharman (unused)
Crowd: 43,657 at Optus Stadium