Clayton Oliver tangles with George Wardlaw during the R15 match between Melbourne and North Melbourne at the MCG on June 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

MELBOURNE coach Simon Goodwin has backed Clayton Oliver to work his way through being tagged after North Melbourne's Will Phillips shut him out of the Demons' three-point victory.

Oliver had just 14 disposals - an equal-second lowest career tally (previously recorded in round 23, 2023 and round two, 2016) - and gave away five free kicks, particularly frustrated in the first half.

DEMONS v KANGAROOS Full match coverage and stats

"It was a tight tag, and Phillips did a good job. If you had to say who won the battle, you'd say he won the battle," Goodwin said.

"He shut Clayton out of the game for the majority of the night. Clayton keeps working through it and he'll continue to work through it. Clayton's had a lot of attention for a long time, so the young fella did a good job on him.

"I thought they did a good job, they were working pretty closely together, Jack Viney and Clayton. 

"When so much attention goes into one, someone else has an opportunity, and tonight it was Trent (Rivers) and Jack and Tom (Sparrow), and Clayton just did his bit. I'm sure Clayton will be back in some good form soon."


Melbourne got out to a 39-point lead late in the third term before North Melbourne stormed home, just falling short as the Roos kicked the last six goals of the game while the Demons remained scoreless.

"It was a tight finish, that's for sure, and credit to North Melbourne, they played an outstanding last quarter. They had a never-give-up attitude and found a way into the game," Goodwin said.

"Credit goes to them, and credit to our guys. It got tight and we were able to find enough winning moments late in the game to come up with a result. For three quarters, we started to look more like the way we want to play. It's certainly not perfect by any stretch, but it's heading there.

"We lost centre bounce, we lost stoppages, their pressure was outstanding and they won contest, that was a big part of the game on the night. It was a really contested game of footy, it was a tough game of footy, and it was a high-pressure game of footy. 

"When they start to dominate those sorts of stats in a quarter, the momentum of the game is going to shift and you're going to give them territory and you're going to give them maximum opportunity to score, and they took it."


Goodwin said Christian Salem, who was subbed off in the last quarter, had carried a knee knock into the game but should be fine, while Jake Lever (knee) should return next week to face Brisbane.

After shutting down Nick Daicos for three quarters last week before he was curiously subbed off, Phillips took another scalp in Oliver in a role that is quickly becoming his own.

Will Phillips tackles Jack Viney during North Melbourne's clash with Melbourne in round 15, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"It's certainly given him an opportunity to play in the side. He's been playing some pretty good footy in the VFL, and just with the rotation of guys – he did too good a job on Daicos in the first half last week not to continue to get an opportunity in that space this week," Clarkson said.

"What we do next week (against the Western Bulldogs), I'm not too sure. There's a little bit of a challenge, because what's kept him out of the side in a sense is the depth of midfielders we've had through there. With Jy (Simpkin) coming back this week, our captain, that puts a test on the depth of the midfield and who can play through there.

"But we wanted to give him another opportunity in that space and thought he acquitted himself really well. Sometimes guys just need to have some sort of role like that to just find their spot in the side."

Clarkson took a glass half-full approach to the narrow loss, the second in two weeks for the club after a breakthrough win a fortnight ago against West Coast, with the team now ready to add a new element to the training track – working on close finishes.

"It seems a little bit comical we weren't doing a hell of a lot of it in the first half of the year, because what's the point of practising it when you're never in close finishes," Clarkson said.

"It gives us heart we can practice some of that now, not that we absolutely ignored it, but it's pretty hard for players to get motivated to practise red-time finishes in games when you're very rarely in them, but that's the pleasing part of it. 

"Just at the moment, the more experienced sides know what to do in the crunch more than we are, but at least we're giving ourselves a chance in games. We'll learn and the Collingwoods and Melbournes and Sydneys have, over the journey, had disappointments in close losses, but hopefully the exposure to it augurs well for the future."