THE WESTERN Bulldogs have snapped a five-game losing streak and inflicted Geelong's seventh consecutive post-bye loss, but had to rely on a missed set shot from Harry Taylor after the siren to hang on for a spirited two-point win at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
The Bulldogs had looked home when they led by nine points with little more than 30 seconds to play, but a brilliant crumbing goal from Gary Ablett gave the Cats a sniff.
And Taylor then had a chance to be the hero in his return from a long injury layoff when he marked 40m from goal just before the final siren sounded.
DOGS GET THE BONE Full match details and stats
But the left-footer pushed his shot left, sending the Bulldogs players into frenzied celebrations for a well-deserved 16.7 (103) to 15.11 (101) victory.
Little separated the teams for most of the night, with the Cats leading by one point at quarter-time, the Dogs by six at half-time and the Cats by two at the final break.
There was no shortage of heroes for the Bulldogs in the final quarter.
Pocket dynamo Ed Richards kicked two early goals that put the Dogs back in front, while Billy Gowers then conjured a brilliant Jackie-Chan-like goal from mid-air that was reminiscent of Daniel Wells' goal against Fremantle in 2004.
TAYLOR-MADE MOMENT MISSED Five talking points
Moments earlier, Mitch Wallis showed incredible composure to kick backwards to teammate Jason Johannisen and then burst clear inside the Dogs' forward 50 to take a pass 45m from goal.
Wallis' set shot fell short but Gowers took care of the rest, helping Wallis to bounce back from his costly late turnover last week that allowed North Melbourne to pinch a two-point win.
The Bulldogs' defence then withstood a sustained barrage from the Cats during the game's final minutes – but only just.
Toby McLean (25 possessions, five clearances, 11 tackles and one goal), Luke Dahlhaus (29 possessions and eight marks) and Josh Dunkley (27 possessions, seven tackles and two goals) led the way all night for the Dogs.
WATCH The amazing last two minutes
Richards (three goals) was a livewire in attack, while the composure and class of Marcus Bontempelli (24 possessions and two goals) and Lachie Hunter (24 possessions) was telling.
The Dogs held a 24-point lead early in the third term, but the Cats hit back, kicking five of the next six goals, with a Patrick Dangerfield major after the three-quarter-time siren sending them into the final break with the lead.
It was a riveting contest and a win – just the Bulldogs' fifth for the season – that should do wonders for the confidence of Luke Beveridge's men, while it also broke a run of 11 consecutive losses against Geelong.
Before their fighting loss against North, the Dogs had lost their previous four games by an average margin of 44.5 points. But their round 13 bye seems to have done wonders for them and they look every chance to salvage something from a season that had looked set to end as an unmitigated disaster.
"There's some very encouraging things that happened out there, all through the phases (of the game)," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.
"And we always know that we need an even contribution from the 22, and obviously we lost 'Jongy' early, but I couldn't speak highly enough of every player that played in the red, white and blue tonight. Just huge contributions across the board and that's what got us the win.
"We got a bit lucky with the last kick, but that perseverance was there even after they headed us after we were up by four goals. Terrific perseverance by the boys."
Old-stagers Patrick Dangerfield (31 possessions and one goal), Joel Selwood (34 possessions and 10 clearances) and Gary Ablett (30 possessions and one goal) did everything they could to get the Cats over the line, as did Tim Kelly (34 possessions and one goal) who had a massive 19 possessions in the last quarter alone.
Rhys Stanley (19 possessions, six clearances, 36 hit-outs and a goal) performed well in the ruck, while Mark Blicavs continued his strong form in defence, blanketing young Dogs forward Aaron Naughton, and Tom Hawkins (3.2 and nine marks) provided a strong target in attack all night.
"It's obviously really disappointing to lose that way, but a positive that we gave ourselves a chance to win with the last kick of the night after not playing particularly well," Cats coach Chris Scott said after the match.
"It was probably a game where there were quite a few momentum swings so we were hanging in for a little bit under pressure where they had the momentum, but we were good enough to get the game back on our own terms.
"It's probably the second game in a row where we just haven't been as good in the fundamental parts of the game as the opposition.
"It's quite rare for us to give up as big a score as we did and to give up as many goals as we did from close range too."
Geelong's loss could be further soured with midfielder Sam Menegola likely to come under MRO scrutiny for a tackle midway through the first quarter that forced Lin Jong out of the game with a broken right collarbone.
Menegola's tackle did not involve a sling or two motions, but he landed heavily on Jong's back in much the same manner as West Coast's Nic Naitanui did in his tackle on Port Adelaide's Karl Amon in round seven, an action that earned the Eagles ruckman a one-match suspension.
The Cats are also a chance to slip out of the top eight by the end of the round, after entering Friday night's game in seventh, just percentage ahead of Hawthorn (ninth) and half a game ahead of Greater Western Sydney (10th).
Western Bulldogs: Lin Jong, who came into the Bulldogs as a late inclusion for Matt Suckling, did not last long, breaking his right collarbone midway through the first quarter in a Sam Menegola tackle. Forward Billy Gowers injured his right ankle during the first term and despite playing out the game looked sore on occasions.
Geelong: Patrick Dangerfield ran into the Etihad Stadium fence late in the third term and suffered a cut to his leg, but finished the game without any apparent discomfort.
The Western Bulldogs host Hawthorn next Saturday night at Etihad Stadium, where they have lost their past four encounters against the Hawks. The Cats face a six-day break before taking on Sydney at the SCG next Thursday night. Geelong last played at the SCG in 2014, when Sydney dished it a 110-point belting.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.2 9.4 13.5 16.7 (103)
GEELONG 4.3 8.4 13.7 15.11 (101)
Western Bulldogs: Richards 3, Schache 2, Dunkley 2, Williams 2, Bontempelli 2, Gowers 2, Wallis, McLean, Cordy,
Geelong: Hawkins 3, Taylor 2, Menegola 2, Narkle 2, Parfitt, Murdoch, Stanley, Dangerfield, Kelly, Ablett
Western Bulldogs: Dunkley, Dahlhaus, McLean, Bontempelli, Johannisen, Wallis
Geelong: Dangerfield, Hawkins, Selwood, Ablett, Kelly, Stewart
Western Bulldogs: Matt Suckling (Western Bulldogs) replaced in the selected side by Lin Jong; Jong (collarbone).
Umpires: Donlon, Hosking, Gianfagna
Official crowd: 29,499 at Etihad Stadium