A BRILLIANT final term from Clay Smith has helped the Western Bulldogs overcome a slow start and snatch a five-point win at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
The Tigers led by 32 points when Jack Riewoldt goaled early in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs chipped away at the deficit over the next two terms and hit the lead for the first time when Smith goaled at the 16-minute mark of the final term.
The Western Bulldogs led by five points at the time, which was the margin at the final siren, but they survived some anxious final moments before securing an 11.14 (80) to 11.9 (75) victory.
Full match details and stats
Smith kicked two goals in the final term – and an equal game-high four for the match – and, two minutes after his final major, found Lachie Hunter 35m from goal with a superbly centred pass.
Hunter's converted set shot put the Bulldogs 11 points up, but the Tigers were not done, with Riewoldt hitting back with a goal at the 23-minute mark that brought his side back within four points.
The Bulldogs hung on from there, joining Richmond on five wins for the season.
WATCH: The thrilling last two minutes
Riewoldt kicked the 500th goal of his career when he scored his first major of the game midway through the opening quarter, and finished with four goals for the game to be one of the Tigers' best players.
Marcus Bontempelli (27 possessions, 10 tackles and one goal) was outstanding for the Bulldogs through the midfield and in attack, while Luke Dahlhaus (31 possessions), Jack Macrae (30) and Lachie Hunter (28) were prime movers through the midfield.
Key defender Marcus Adams (two goals) spent the night in attack and gave the Bulldogs an aerial presence, taking a crucial contested mark at half-back late in the match, while Tom Boyd gave the Dogs a lift in the ruck after a slow start to the game.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was pleased with the pluck his team showed in its comeback, but said there was definite room for improvement.
"We're making extremely hard work of (our wins). It doesn't help when the opposition have come to play as well as they did tonight. Richmond were very good," Beveridge said.
"We were disappointed with our start to the game and our efficiency was very poor, but Richmond just capitalised on everything we didn't do well and they torched us early.
"Again our players showed how big their hearts are. We'd love them to be able to capitalise on their endeavours a little bit easier."
GAME BREAKER: Smith saves his best until last
The Tigers were brave in defeat, showing their 76-point flogging from Adelaide last Sunday was not a true reflection of their standing in 2017.
Dustin Martin (28 possessions, six clearances and two goals) did all he could to get Richmond over the line, while Shaun Grigg (29 possessions and one goal) and Josh Caddy (20 and one) were also valuable contributors through the middle of the ground, and Alex Rance provided his typical mix of defence and counter-attack in the back half.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick could not fault his team's effort, but said the Bulldogs' edge in class had told at the end of the game.
"We probably lacked a little bit of courage towards the end of the last quarter when the game probably tightened up," Hardwick said.
"In fairness, the pressure around the ball was pretty high. I think the Bulldogs' pressure rating soared through the roof that last quarter and it's why they sit where they do, We just probably couldn't get the ball out of defensive 50 cleanly enough to get a nice efficient shot on goal at the other end.
"We probably butchered the ball inside 50 a little bit too at various stages, but there are a lot of positives to take out of the game tonight for us."
The Tigers came out roaring from the first bounce, opening their account in little more than a minute when Martin accepted a Riewoldt handball and ran into goal unopposed.
The Bulldogs hit back soon after when Jake Stringer soccered a brilliant goal on the half-volley, but the Tigers then took over, kicking four unanswered goals to go into the first break with a 26-point lead.
Five talking points: Western Bulldogs v Richmond
Riewoldt kicked two of those– the first after he lost opponent Zaine Cordy in a marking contest midway through the first term was his 500th – and Dan Butler snapped the last after brilliantly gathering a half-volley at full pace.
The Bulldogs used Josh Dunkley, 190cm, as their ruckman for most of the first term as Tom Boyd was stationed in attack, with Richmond, primarily thanks to debutant Ivan Soldo, winning the quarter's hit-outs 20-1, including a 6-0 advantage at centre bounces.
Defender Fletcher Roberts won the Dogs' only hit-out for the first term, but his team still managed to win the clearances 11-9.
When Riewoldt kicked his third goal in the opening 90 seconds of the second quarter, the Tigers had kicked five unanswered goals and led by 32 points.
Tom Boyd returned to the ruck for the Bulldogs in the second quarter and helped arrest the Tigers' ruck dominance, winning 10 hit-outs for the term as the Dogs won that stat 11-9.
The Bulldogs also started to get on top in general play but struggled to convert in front of goal, kicking 3.5 for the quarter.
They cut the Tigers' lead to 13 points when Smith goaled with a left-foot snap at the 19-minute mark, but a late Martin goal helped Richmond go into half-time with an 18-point lead.
Western Bulldogs: Jake Stringer was injured in a tackle by Brandon Ellis midway through the third term, appearing to injure his right knee. He went down to the Dogs' rooms for assessment and, although he returned to the bench without any strapping on his knee, he did not take any further part in the game. The Bulldogs ruled out any ACL damage after the game, but Stringer will need to undergo scans. Josh Dunkley injured his left shoulder early in the final term and left the ground immediately nursing his arm. He also did not return and Beveridge confirmed after the game that he had dislocated his shoulder and faced a stretch on the sidelines. Jason Johannisen came to the interchange bench late in the second quarter to have his right wrist assessed but returned to the field soon after and played out the game.
Richmond: Nick Vlastuin came from the ground early in the second after appearing to injure his right shoulder in a contest. The defender went into the rooms to be assessed and did not return. Tigers coach Damien Hardwick was unsure of the extent of Vlastuin's injury at his post-match media conference, saying he expected the defender to have scans on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs face a six-day break before taking on West Coast at Domain Stadium next Friday night, while the Tigers host Fremantle at the MCG next Sunday.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.1 4.6 8.11 11.14 (80)
RICHMOND 5.3 7.6 9.7 11.9 (75)
Western Bulldogs: Smith 4, Adams 2, Stringer, Picken, McLean, Bontempelli, Hunter
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Martin 2, Butler, Miles, Lambert, Caddy, Grigg
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Bontempelli, Hunter, Smith, Macrae, T.Boyd
Richmond: Martin, Riewoldt, Rance, Grigg, Caddy, Houli
Western Bulldogs: Stringer (knee), Dunkley (shoulder)
Richmond: Vlastuin (shoulder)
Umpires: Deboy, Meredith, Ryan
Official crowd: 46,387 at Etihad Stadium