FREMANTLE has held off a gallant Collingwood in a seven-point heart-stopper at Domain Stadium to maintain a buffer at the top of the AFL ladder.
The Magpies lost no admirers and confirmed their legitimacy as a finals contender with a quality performance in a high-pressure game played in slippery conditions on Thursday night.
Five talking points: Fremantle v Collingwood
Scores were level at three-quarter time but the Dockers took control in the middle and kicked three goals to two in the final term to win their 11th match of the season, 12.8 (80) to 11.7 (73), in front of 37,145 fans.
The conditions made it tough for clean ball handling, but Freo’s spread of contributors gave it the ascendancy.
Nat Fyfe was phenomenal again with 32 disposals and two goals and Michael Walters was the pick of the game's many star small forwards.
Walters kicked four vital goals, including one at the end of third to draw Freo level, and the final goal of the game to give the Dockers their narrow buffer.
He also kicked the opening goal of the game with a fantastic crumb and snap after helping his team win the stoppage.
At the other end of the ground, Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo kicked two apiece but were reasonably quiet by their high standards.
Garrick Ibbotson took nine marks in defence, many of them crucial intercepts, and Aaron Sandilands had 50 hit-outs, 16 of them in the last quarter.
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon was happy to remain top of the AFL ladder but he said his side needed to significantly improve its ball use.
"You don't want to just get seduced by ladder positions - we know we need to improve," Lyon said post-match.
"I thought our desire to win in the last quarter was really strong - Collingwood certainly brought a lot of heat to the game. They've laid 90 tackles, which is significant and really made it a tough tight contest.
"We overused it short. We went a bit deeper later. We had some shocking turnovers early when we had opportunities to go to one-on-ones inside forward 50."
For the Magpies, Scott Pendlebury was superb, gathering 25 disposals and kicking a goal despite spending an unusual amount of time on the bench. Travis Varcoe was outstanding in his 150th game while Alex Fasolo and Jamie Elliott kicked two goals apiece.
"The effort was excellent," Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said post-match.
"Freo had to play pretty well to withstand our pressure and get the result.
"Sandilands gave good supply and they are really strong midfielders, Fyfe, Mundy, Neale, and they were starting to get ascendancy through there.
"I thought for the most part we held up and were able to neutralise that part of the ground as much as we could, and our pressure was huge. Not many teams can withstand that onslaught of pressure for that long."
Collingwood started brightly in the opening term, using elements of Richmond's blueprint from round 10 to control the tempo before dominating the clearances through Pendlebury and Swan. Pendlebury had 11 disposals for the quarter and kicked a goal.
The Dockers conceded a 15-point lead at one stage before arresting control around the middle. Neale gathered 12 touches and had four clearances and the Dockers cut the margin to two points at quarter-time. But all three Fremantle goals came through front-and-square snaps after long balls to a congested forward 50.
The Magpies reclaimed the momentum at the start of the second despite Pendlebury spending the first eight minutes on the bench.
But it remained an arm wrestle with the sides kicking four goals each for the term. The slippery conditions and intense pressure forced skill errors on both sides.
It also showcased some brilliant crumbing goals at both ends from Fasolo and Walters while Fyfe pushed forward on Swan to take a huge contested mark and kick his second goal.
The third term was even tighter as the pressure lifted another cog. Scores were level at three-quarter time as was the kicking efficiency of both clubs, which had dropped to 64 per cent apiece.
The Dockers midfield took control early in the last. Both sides received free kicks in front of goal but while Walters slotted his for his fourth, Jesse White missed his chance at the other end to see the Magpies fall just short.
Collingwood faces Hawthorn in a blockbuster next Friday night at the MCG while Fremantle hosts the Brisbane Lions.
Nat Fyfe tries to power past a Collingwood opponent on Thursday night. Picture: AFL Media
FREMANTLE 3.2 7.4 9.6 12.8 (80)
COLLINGWOOD 3.4 7.6 9.6 11.7 (73)
Fremantle: Walters 4, Fyfe 2, Hill 2, Ballantyne, Barlow, C Pearce, Neale
Collingwood: Elliott 2, Fasolo 2, Broomhead, Pendlebury, Adams, de Goey, Crisp, Blair, Seedsman
Fremantle: Fyfe, Neale, Hill, Ibbotson, Sandilands, Walters, Mundy
Collingwood: Pendlebury, Varcoe, Swan, Sidebottom, Brown, Adams, Cloke
Fremantle: Nick Suban replaced Hayden Crozier in the third quarter.
Collingwood: Paul Seedsman replaced Adam Oxley at three-quarter time.
Umpires: Dalgleish, Stevic, McInerney
Crowd: 37,145 at Domain Stadium