A WOUNDED West Coast dug deep to reinforce its recent ascendancy over Fremantle and steady its season, winning a record 11th straight Western Derby by 59 points at an empty Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Appearing vulnerable to an easy kill without several senior stars, the Eagles drew on their reserves to overwhelm a young but disappointing Dockers team, winning 20.12 (132) to 11.7 (73).
They kicked their highest score for the season, making their move in a ruthless five-goal run in the third quarter that appeared to break the Dockers' spirit, then holding their opponents goalless in the final term.
Midfielder Tim Kelly lifted sensationally to win the Glendinning-Allan Medal as best afield, leading the Eagles with a career-high 42 disposals (23 contested) and 14 clearances – also a career best.
With top-line midfielders Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo sidelined, Kelly was called on to be the main man and combined brilliantly with dominant ruckman Nic Naitanui (22 hitouts and eight clearances).
EAGLES v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats
He was supported in the midfield by Andrew Gaff (35), Dom Sheed (30 and six clearances) and Jack Redden (29 and six) with the weight of midfield contributions too much for the Dockers to contain.
Forward targets Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Jake Waterman capitalised and kicked three goals each, with young star Oscar Allen playing in defence to cover the loss of Jeremy McGovern.
It was a hard, even and clinical team performance that answered their coach's pointed criticism last week in the best possible way.
The opening half was a shootout in front of empty stands, with 13 points separating the teams after the highest scoring half in Western Derby history.
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Jamie Cripps snapped the first goal of the second half in just 25 seconds, however, and from there the Eagles were dominant.
It was their depth and fringe players who stood up at critical times, with Jamaine Jones, Nathan Vardy, Jarrod Brander and Jake Waterman all hitting the scoreboard during the third-quarter run.
Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir appeared frustrated at the final break, with his team defence again breaking down under heat.
Andrew Brayshaw (32 possessions) battled hard in the midfield, while Matt Taberner booted three first-half goals before being shaded by second-game Eagle Harry Edwards.
David Mundy continued a fine season with 29 disposals, seven clearances and seven inside 50s.
Simpson gets response
How the Eagles would respond to stinging criticism from their coach that they had appeared weak and were embarrassing against Geelong was one of the many tantalising storylines of the Derby 52. If they didn't bounce back, the path forward would have been troubled. But bounce back they did, tackling ferociously and producing a four-quarter effort for the first time this season. They won every quarter, having previously only won two in a match this season. They won the contested ball count (135-120) and the clearances 40-31, controlling centre bounce in the second half (8-4).
Wounded backlines bleed goals
Both coaches would have been disappointed with their teams' defensive efforts in a first half goalfest. The highest scoring opening half in Western Derby history saw the teams share 20 goals as Matt Taberner (three) and Josh Kennedy (three) spearheaded their teams. The sight of empty stands in such a thrilling half hammered home the sacrifices being made during the latest COVID-19 scare in Western Australia after a game-day decision from the State Government to lock out fans. It was the first crowdless Derby, with last year's played under restrictions but still in front of 25,306 fans.
Reality check for Dockers
Sunday's Derby was Fremantle's chance to announce itself as a finals contender that had arrived under Justin Longmuir. It ended as a reality check for the young team that endured its own injury setbacks – both before and during the match – but ultimately disappointed as their painful losing run against West Coast continued. The backline stumbled without club champion Luke Ryan, with repeated turnovers on the last line from bad decisions crushing any chance of a second-half rally. And the midfield, which had become the cornerstone of the team's recent form, had too many passengers.
WEST COAST 4.2 11.4 11.4 20.12 (132)
FREMANTLE 4.0 9.3 9.3 11.7 (73)
West Coast: Darling 3, Kennedy 3, Waterman 3, Brander 2, Cripps 2, Jones 2, Langdon 2, Gaff, Petruccelle, Vardy
Fremantle: Taberner 3, Lobb 2, Colyer, Frederick, Mundy, Serong, Walters, Watson
West Coast: Kelly, Gaff, Sheed, Redden, Naitanui, Kennedy, Rotham, Darling
Fremantle: Brayshaw, Fyfe, Mundy, Taberner, Walters, Conca
West Coast: Nil
Fremantle: Hughes (shoulder), Chapman (shoulder)
West Coast: Ainsworth (unused)
Fremantle: Duman (replaced Hughes)
Crowd: No crowd permitted at Optus Stadium