Christian Petracca celebrates a goal during the R4 match between Melbourne and Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on April 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THAT'S how you put a pin in the Gather Round balloon.

If the Adelaide city centre was bubbling with excitement a couple of hours before Thursday night's Gather Round opener, the walk back across the River Torrens later in the evening would have felt markedly different after the winless Crows were dismantled by a superior Melbourne side.

CROWS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats

The Demons, having spent the entire week in Adelaide after also beating Port last Saturday night, looked like a team well acclimatised for the occasion. They silenced the early atmosphere, burst clear when they got the game on their terms, then stayed composed amid a late onslaught to secure a crucial 15-point win.

Melbourne's gritty 10.18 (78) to 8.15 (63) victory wasn't always pretty, but ensured a fourth consecutive triumph for Simon Goodwin's men and condemned Adelaide to yet another defeat amid a troubled start to its campaign.

Christian Petracca (29 disposals, eight clearances, six tackles, one goal) was a difference-maker from the midfield, while Bayley Fritsch (eight disposals, three goals) turned the game with his second-half performance.

Adelaide, led by youngster Jake Soligo (27 disposals, seven clearances, eight tackles) in midfield, were improved on previous weeks but still looked a shadow of the side expected to challenge for finals in 2024.


Lacking any surging presence going forward, the Crows are now 0-4 on the season and staring at another campaign without finals having been beaten by a Demons outfit versed in how to flip the Gather Round script.

It was a script that Adelaide wrote on this weekend last year, when they kicked eight of the first nine goals to batter Carlton in front of a raucous crowd. But, this time, Melbourne weathered that storm.

While the hosts led the contest 19-8 for inside 50s, 16-9 for clearances and 7-2 for scoring shots to the first change, they hit the target just twice and could only generate a slender five-point advantage to show for their dominance.


Ultimately, Adelaide was fortunate the roles soon reversed when it became Melbourne's turn to kick towards the scoreboard end. With the Dees clawing back the territorial advantage, they mustered five points in an inaccurate six-minute spell to start a second quarter where the game hung delicately in the balance.

It wasn't until Kade Chandler made a mockery of both teams' early profligacy with a lovely set-shot finish from deep inside the pocket that Melbourne eventually shook free of its wasteful opponents.

Kysaiah Pickett darted from a contest and snapped truly just seconds later to ensure the first combination of successive goals for the match, before Jacob van Rooyen made the most of a 50m penalty to carve open a 17-point lead at half-time.

That set the scene for the Fritsch show in the third term. Having not had a single kick at half-time, Melbourne's spearhead took advantage of a Clayton Oliver intercept for his first, pulled off an audacious one-step finish from long-range for his second, then made the most of some Adelaide indiscipline for his third.


It was part of a Demons surge where the visitors compiled four unanswered goals on either side of the long break, ensuring the loftier 28-point advantage they had manufactured by three-quarter time was perhaps more reflective of the side's all-round dominance.

But, as Adelaide showed on this weekend 12 months ago, Gather Round momentum is real. One otherwise nondescript goal from Jordan Dawson led to another from Josh Rachele just minutes later, and all of a sudden the margin was a couple of kicks and the vocal Adelaide Oval support was back invested in the contest.

But, just as it did early, Melbourne stood firm when the heat was on. The Demons didn't kick a goal in the final quarter, but they didn't need to. Their earlier industry proving enough, with the Crows simply running out of time to mount a comeback.

Crow carnage for winless Nicks
It might be starting to feel like déjà vu for Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks. Not since his first season in 2020 have the Crows started a campaign 0-4, with this year's winless start bringing about its own set of unique disappointments. Adelaide lacked surge and forward-half dare on Thursday night, highlighted by the fact the Crows once again managed a low score of just 8.15 (63). For the AFL's highest-scoring team in 2023, it must be an incredibly frustrating experience. While Adelaide was rightfully tipped to struggle in Nicks' first campaign, where they ultimately went 13 games without a win, this year was meant to be different. Any lingering finals aspirations are now up in smoke, and expectant supporters are understandably getting restless.

Clearly the May-n man
The last thing Steven May needed on Thursday night was a big hit from Taylor Walker in the opening minutes. Having missed last week's win over Port Adelaide with broken ribs, May spent a long period on the sidelines in clear discomfort as the issue reared its head again. Not that you'd have known it. Once again, the Melbourne defender was among the game's most influential players. He had seven disposals, five marks, three contested marks and four intercepts midway through the opening term when he was hobbled again, showing the early stamp he made on the contest. He continued that throughout the night, finishing with 19 touches and nine important grabs to emerge as one of the game's best and most influential performers.


Will star Demon face nervous wait?
Kysaiah Pickett was among Melbourne's best on Thursday night, kicking two classy goals in the first half as the Demons built upon their early dominance. But a moment just before half-time might have the livewire forward facing Match Review scrutiny. Pickett left the ground and braced to bump Jake Soligo, collecting the Adelaide midfielder in the head. Only a 'medium impact' grading would see Pickett suspended, given it will likely be graded as 'careless conduct' and 'high contact'. But, given Soligo was up moments later to take his free kick, perhaps a fine appears a more likely outcome. The Match Review will meet on Friday to deliver its verdict.



ADELAIDE           2.5      3.8        6.9         8.15 (63)
MELBOURNE     2.0      6.7     10.13     10.18 (78)

Adelaide: Fogarty 2, Rankine, Laird, Walker, Keays, Dawson, Rachele
Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Pickett 2, van Rooyen 2, Petty, Petracca, Chandler

Adelaide: Soligo, Dawson, Laird, Keane, Rankine
Petracca, May, Fritsch, Gawn, McVee, Viney

Adelaide: Nil
Melbourne: Nil

Adelaide: Berry (replaced Burgess in the third quarter)
Melbourne: Woewodin (replaced Brown in the fourth quarter)

Crowd: 48,020 at the Adelaide Oval