IN A SEASON when St Kilda's ball use has been lamentable at times, coach Alan Richardson said his side's foot skills were the worst they have been this year.
Time and again, the Saints have turned it over. It was an issue Richardson acknowledged in June, but he had yet to see the worst of it.
In Friday night's 43-point loss to Essendon at Etihad Stadium, the Bombers kicked 13 of their 18 goals from front-half turnovers, which Richardson labelled a "big number".
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"There were periods in the first half of the game where we had real momentum, but just hurt ourselves really badly with our ball use," Richardson said.
"We've had some issues with our use throughout the year but that's as bad as we've used it, particularly from the back."
After a largely competitive first half, Essendon slotted four quick goals before the main break and ran away with the contest, despite having no fit players on the bench in the final term.
"That (poor ball use) really sapped a lot of our energy and a lot of our momentum," Richardson said.
"We realised they were a couple down, but if you don't look after the footy, then you're not going to be able to capitalise on anything."
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The midfield disappointed, with Seb Ross and Jack Steele perhaps the only two onballers who could be satisfied to some degree.
That came after the Western Bulldogs' midfielders held the ascendancy against the Saints last Saturday.
"We got beaten in the midfield and it was a period again where we just didn't step up, and those players, for the second week in a row, they need to wear that," Richardson said.
"They're not shirking from that at all. They know that that's the responsibility, if you go in at centre bounce, you've got to make sure you get it done, and we didn't get it done tonight."
Jack Steven might be leading the best and fairest but has had a quiet couple of weeks.
"It's as if Jacko's trying too hard. He's rushing around, his method of trying to get our team back on track is to almost do more, and at times we lose a bit of shape because of it, or he'll scream past for a handball receive that's a metre away from the bloke who's got the footy," Richardson said.
"Whilst his intent is admirable, at times the execution and outcome's not what we're after, but there's no-one at our footy club that tries harder."
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Ruckman Lewis Pierce lined up in his first match in more than two years and performed well against Tom Bellchambers, with Richardson conceding it might have been worth looking at him earlier in the season as Tom Hickey and Billy Longer struggled.
"You look at tonight's performance and perhaps we could've had him in a bit earlier," Richardson said.
Pierce plays his VFL football at Frankston rather than the club's main affiliate Sandringham, so he can play his preferred position in the ruck, unlike last season when he was forced to play in defence at times.
However, that has meant Friday night was the first time the coach has watched Pierce live in 2018.
Of the bump from defender Nathan Brown that left Adam Saad concussed, Richardson conceded the Saint could be in trouble.
"I didn't see the replay, I certainly saw it live. I thought he was late," Richardson said.