IF A measure of a good team is that it doesn't lose two games in a row, then St Kilda thoroughly deserves its place near the top of the ladder this year.
After a Monday-night drubbing at the hands of Geelong, some doubts were raised about the Saints' credentials in 2020. Throw in a potentially season-ending back injury to midfield star Jade Gresham, and their clash against Essendon on Sunday loomed as a danger game for the top-four hopefuls.
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It was far from it. St Kilda dominated the Gabba clash, powering to a 35-point win after having control of the contest from the opening passage of play.
The 10.8 (68) to 5.3 (33) victory maintained the Saints' record of not dropping consecutive games this year, a strong feat in a season that has been marked for its inconsistency.
SAINTS' ASCENSION Full match coverage and stats
The Saints' weapons were all on show against Essendon as they burst to a 22-point lead at the opening break and kept the Bombers to only two goals in the first half.
Essendon held the tempo of the game after the main break and struck with back-to-back goals, but the Saints steadied and ran out comfortable winners.
Zak Jones, in his 100th game, was excellent with 26 disposals, while midfield teammates Jack Steele (21) and Jack Billings (23) were also busy. Boom recruit Bradley Hill was also back to some of his run-and-carry best, finishing with 17 disposals and a dashing run down the wing in the final term.
The defeat leaves Essendon on a four-game streak without a win and its hopes of snatching a finals spot quickly diminishing. The Bombers recorded more inside-50 entries, disposals and clearances, but with a depleted forward line could not make the most of that midfield effort.
King's big breakout game is coming
It looked like Sunday could be the day when Max King had his big breakout game after he booted the opening goal in the first minute and dominated the first quarter, kicking two goals and missing another shot from mid-range. He looked too agile for Bombers defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and also threw stand-in Essendon skipper Michael Hurley out of the way in a contest at the top of the goal square. King didn't keep going at the same rate – he closed with three goals – but it should be enough to see his consistent form rewarded with a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.
Injuries are biting the Bombers too badly
With Joe Daniher, Jake Stringer, Orazio Fantasia and Jayden Laverde missing from the forward line and Devon Smith managed, the Bombers' scoring struggles continued against St Kilda. That might have been a by-product of those missing in the midfield, too, with Dyson Heppell's absence starting to hit and David Zaharakis out for the season with a quad injury. Then, in defence, the Bombers were patchy and haven't been able to call on Patrick Ambrose or Cale Hooker. Essendon had one of the worst pre-seasons of any club with injuries and, even after the COVID-19 shutdown, it has transferred into the regular season.
Battle ready to soar
Josh Battle became a fixture of St Kilda's line-up last year with 19 games, but the versatile Saints tall has taken his game up another notch this season. Battle was excellent against the Bombers in a roaming defensive role, mopping up in the back half with 18 disposals and nine marks. The 21-year-old's running capacity and marking have always been his strengths and they were on show against the Bombers, including when he pushed into attack and slotted a goal, his eighth from eight games this year.
ST KILDA: 4.4 7.5 9. 10.8 (68)
ESSENDON: 1.0 2.0 4.1 5.3 (33)??
St Kilda: King 3, Membrey 2, Battle, Butler, Hind, Lonie, Ryder
Essendon: Begley, Langford, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Saad, Townsend
St Kilda: Jones, Battle, Billings, Steele, Clark, King
Essendon: Parish, Shiel, Merrett, McGrath, Langford
St Kilda: Paton (concussion)