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Match report: Finally, Dees make their move

Highlights: Melbourne v St Kilda The Demons and Saints clash in round 21
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: James Harmes (left) and Jeff Garlett of the Demons celebrates during the 2017 AFL round 21 match between the Melbourne Demons and the St Kilda Saints at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 13, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Mitch Hannan celebrates his match-sealing goal

MELBOURNE'S season is alive, while St Kilda has proved it is not yet ready for September football, with the Demons winning a season-defining clash at the MCG by 24 points on Sunday.   

In a virtual elimination final that would decide which of these teams remained in the finals mix, Melbourne stood up in a desperate final term to win 14.12 (96) to 10.12 (72).  

Full match coverage and stats

The win elevates the Demons into seventh spot, and with clashes against the Brisbane Lions and Collingwood to come at the MCG they are in a strong position to play finals for the first time since 2006.

The wayward Saints, meanwhile, are stuck in 11th spot with one win and significant percentage now separating them from the eighth-placed West Coast.

Goodwin's selection table punts pay off

After the Demons burst out of the blocks and built a 40-point lead halfway through the second quarter, the Saints responded with a gutsy fightback to trail by just 10 points at the final change.

St Kilda forward Tim Membrey cut the margin to four points early in the final term, but the Demons responded and Mitch Hannan rose to kick back-to-back goals from 50m to open a critical 22-point lead.

"I thought we got back to the football the Melbourne footy team has been producing. It was pleasing that we had players prepared to run hard from the back half and join in," coach Simon Goodwin said.

"I thought it was a real team performance in that phase of the game.

"As a club we wanted to be in this position where we had opportunity … we've got that and the challenge now is to really step up as a footy club."

Midfielder Nathan Jones (35 possessions and four inside 50s) was superb for the Dees, while Jordan Lewis (25 and five inside 50s) was a steadying influence with the game on the line.

Angus Brayshaw returned from concussion injuries to play his first game since round two and looked at home with 26 possessions (10 contested), inspiring with his courage and attack on the ball. 

Playing in a helmet, the young Demon put his body on the line in a collision with Saint Koby Stevens in the first quarter and the MCG crowd held its breath as the pair clashed heads.

Brayshaw was able to dust himself off, but Stevens' day was ended with concussion and a burst ear drum, forcing the Saints to battle on with 21 fit men.

Cam Pedersen (26 possessions and two goals) was influential in attack and as a support ruckman, while midfielder Clayton Oliver (32 and six tackles) controlled the stoppages with a game-high seven clearances.  

James Harmes kicked three goals in the first quarter, dancing around his opponents as the Demons attacked through the corridor and feasted on St Kilda's early turnovers.

While the Saints were able to fight their way back into the game, they never got their noses in front after being jumped in the opening quarter.

"The issue for us was the start of the game," coach Alan Richardson said

"They're ability to fight and get back in and the pressure and effort was there, (but) it was as bad as I've seen us use the footy.

"Just fundamental errors, not necessarily a reflection of pressure from the opposition, just really easy stuff that we butchered."

Jack Billings (30 possessions and nine marks) battled through an eye injury for the Saints, but he kicked a wayward 1.3 as the Saints wasted opportunities on their way to their fourth loss in five weeks.

Jack Steele (27 and seven tackles) and Luke Dunstan (24 and two goals) fought hard, while star midfielder Jack Steven had a big role in the third-quarter fightback. 

Missed opportunities has been the tale of the Saints' season, however, and they kicked 4.7 during their third-quarter surge, with Billings and Membrey missing gettable opportunities on the eve of three quarter-time.

Melbourne: Oscar McDonald was involved in a heavy collision but was able to play on, with the Demons otherwise unscathed.

St Kilda: Stevens suffered concussion and a burst ear drum in a collision with Angus Brayshaw in the first quarter and never returned. Jack Billings came to the bench twice in the opening term to apply ice to his left eye, but he played out the match with limited vision.

Jack Billings played out the game with a nasty shiner. Picture: Michael Willson

Melbourne can get one hand on a top-eight finish with a win over the Brisbane Lions next Sunday at the MCG. The Saints are playing for pride when they host North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.  

MELBOURNE     6.3    9.6    10.9  14.12 (96)
ST KILDA            1.1    4.4    8.11  10.12 (72)

Melbourne: Harmes 3, Pedersen 2, Hannan 2, Melksham 2, Viney, Tyson, Gawn, Neal-Bullen, Garlett
St Kilda: Dunstan 2, Membrey 2, Sinclair 2, Bruce, Billings, Weller, Webster

Melbourne: Jones, Pedersen, Oliver, Harmes, Brayshaw, Lewis
St Kilda: Steven, Dunstan, Billings, Ross, Steele, Longer, Carlisle, Geary

Melbourne: O.McDonald (ribs)
St Kilda: Stevens (concussion/ear), Billings (left eye)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Stephen, Chamberlain, Ryan

Official crowd: 53,115 at the MCG