STARRING roles from Travis Cloke and Adam Oxley helped mask Collingwood's midfield concerns in its 25-point victory over Melbourne, according to coach Nathan Buckley.
Cloke was the dominant player on the ground, booting seven goals straight as well as taking eight marks (five contested) from 12 disposals at the MCG on Monday.
He won the inaugural Neale Daniher Trophy for his efforts.
However, if not for Cloke's season-best display and the deployment of rebounding defender Oxley as a loose man in defence, Buckley believed his side could have been in all sorts of bother.
"We didn't win the game the way we wanted to… mainly off the back of the fact we were a little bit off at the contest," Buckley said.
"We were able to win with a different structure. It wasn't planned, but it was growth for us and maturity in the group to do that."
Buckley said the Magpies' midfield "lowered its colours" with his side losing the clearance count 36-40 while also allowing Melbourne's Bernie Vince and Nathan Jones to touch the ball 34 times each.
However Buckley and his coaching staff were able to cancel out that deficiency by sending Oxley behind the ball and using his aerial ability to great effect, as he hauled in eight intercept marks and 14 marks in total, to go with a team-high 30 disposals.
Collingwood allowed 9.2 from stoppage situations and Buckley was open about the need to send Oxley back as defensive cover.
"We backed our midfielders and players around the ball to fix that contest, but we weren't able to," Buckley said.
"It was important for us to have that extra body behind the ball at stoppage and I think we showed enough composure to be able to use the ball from that point."
As has become commonplace at Buckley's press conferences, the Magpies coach was asked what he thought of Cloke's goalkicking.
This time he was able to convey his positivity about Cloke's accuracy in front of the big sticks.
"Regardless of the rollercoaster of external opinion he's been pretty consistent with the way he's gone about it," Buckley said.
"It was a dominant performance."
Even though Cloke bagged four goals in a standout first quarter, Buckley highlighted the exact moment he knew his star forward was in for a big day was when he chased down one of Melbourne's defenders with a lunging tackle in the first quarter.
"It might be something you would see in the Sahara desert. It was like a big beast pulling down a wildebeest," Buckley said.
The Magpies are now handsomely positioned at 7-3 with a key game against Greater Western Sydney to come at the MCG next week, before the bye and a tough stretch of games against Fremantle, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and West Coast.
Despite the temptation to look ahead, Buckley said his and side's focus was on the Giants at the MCG next Sunday afternoon.
"We're going to have our hands full there but we don't have to look any further than that," he said.