PREMIERSHIP fancy Melbourne is in the box seat to claim its first minor premiership in 57 years after Bayley Fritsch’s seven-goal haul helped them to a hard-fought 41-point victory over Adelaide at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
The Demons weren't at their best against the young Crows, but their greater depth and experience finally told as the ladder-leaders registered the 16.8 (104) to 9.9 (63) win.
DEMONS v CROWS Full match coverage and stats
It looked like an upset was on the cards when the Crows booted four of the first five goals of the third term to close within three points, but the experienced heads of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Christian Salem lifted when required to ensure the margin was a relatively safe 23 points at the final break.
Sharp-shooter Fritsch booted four goals in the final term to make it seven in total for the match as the Demons banked the four points and looked ahead to the bigger challenges that await over the next six weeks.
Classy defender Salem topped the disposal count for the winners with 29, narrowly ahead of Clayton Oliver (28), Ed Langdon (27) and Petracca (23 and two goals), but all were perhaps overshadowed by Fritsch and Gawn for best on ground honours.
Fritsch strengthened his performance with a superb fourth quarter, while Gawn won 19 disposals, 27 hitouts and a whopping 10 clearances in a game where the Demons only narrowly won (36-35) the clearance count.
Running defender Paul Seedsman brought his own footy in the opening half and finished with a career high 36 disposals for the Crows, while veteran forward Tom Lynch (29) and midfielders Ben Keays (29), Rory Laird (28) and Rory Sloane (25) also won plenty of the ball.
The victory was the Demons’ third on the trot and 16th for the season, helping them lock away the double chance in finals and regain top spot ahead of next week's final round.
A victory over Geelong will give Melbourne its first minor premiership since 1964, while a loss will see it finish second or third behind the Cats, Port Adelaide or both.
While the loss was the Crows’ 15th of the season, they have avoided a second-consecutive wooden spoon and can rise as high as 15th with a win over bottom-placed North Melbourne in the final round.
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Seventh heaven for deadly sharp-shooter
Bayley Fritsch underlined his importance to the Demons with a career-best seven goals, which included four majors in the final quarter and the last five goals for his team. The classy left-footer certainly had his kicking boots on as he finished with seven goals straight from 16 disposals.
Time for Fog to step up
With experienced linkman Tom Lynch on the way out and the future unclear on former skipper Taylor Walker, the time is right for the highly talented Darcy Fogarty to become the leader of the Crows' forward line. Fogarty once again showed glimpses of his best against the Dees, with the 21-year-old pulling down seven marks (three contested) and booting three goals from 12 disposals. There's enough talent there for Fogarty and number two draft pick Riley Thilthorpe to be the long-term mainstays in the Crows' forward half for the next 10 years.
Impressive auditions by fringe players
With Steven May a late withdrawal due to general soreness, athletic defender Joel Smith was given the chance to shine and the 25-year-old performed admirably on the last line of defence in his first match of 2021. Veteran defender Michael Hibberd (14 touches) did nothing wrong either as he looks to cement a spot in the Dees' 22 for the finals, while young gun Jake Bowey (18 disposals) will be hard to drop on his solid performance.
MELBOURNE 3.3 7.4 12.7 16.8 (104)
ADELAIDE 1.6 3.7 8.8 9.9 (63)
Melbourne: Fritsch 7, Brown 2, Jackson 2, Petracca 2, Melksham, Pickett, Spargo
Adelaide: Fogarty 3, McAdam 2, Lynch, Mackay, Murphy, Seedsman
Melbourne: Fritsch, Gawn, Petracca, Langdon, Salem, Jackson
Adelaide: Seedsman, Keays, Sloane, Fogarty, Lynch, Sholl
Melbourne: May (general soreness) replaced by Smith
Adelaide: Himmelberg (hamstring)
Melbourne: vandenBerg (unused)
Adelaide: Sholl (replaced Himmelberg)