ST KILDA didn't quite come marching in for a third straight win to start 2014, but the form of young gun Luke Dunstan and pending reinforcements have coach Alan Richardson buoyant about the next few weeks.
The main downside to a fighting 25-point loss to West Coast at Patersons Stadium was the foot injury to experienced defender Sam Gilbert, which looks likely to keep him out in the short-term at least.
However, the cavalry is coming to help offset the loss of Gilbert. Last year's best and fairest Jack Steven is likely to play next week, although Richardson suggested that would be in the VFL, Sam Fisher is nearing a return, while 18-year-old Jack Billings thrust his name forward with five goals for Sandringham yesterday.
Key forward Tom Lee also booted four while Trent Dennis-Lane (three goals) and Terry Milera were also prominent.
Dunstan, 19, was outstanding against the Eagles, finishing with 29 disposals, including 15 contested possessions, five tackles, six clearances and two goals.
He had 21 and 15 disposals in his first two games.
"He was just really impressive again tonight," Richardson said after the match.
"He's ended with close to 30 possessions, five tackles and he's kicked a pretty important goal, although it was late and it was unlikely we were going to come back from there, but he wasn't to know that.
"At that stage you've got a fair bit of pressure on you to make the most of those opportunities and he went back and kicked a really strong goal for us. He has been really impressive.
"He has been among our better players for three weeks in a row, probably more if you include the NAB Challenge."
Richardson appeared resigned to losing Gilbert for a while.
"It is the foot that he's had surgery on so it looks like he's done some sort of damage to that," Richardson said. "We're obviously hoping that it's a really significant scar-tissue injury but that may not be the case.
"Gilbert has been really good for us, he's played on Jeremy Howe in round one and (Jeremy) Cameron, an All Australian last week and he's had one goal kicked on him, so he's been in really good form and he provides really strong leadership for our young guys.
"You are always going to miss those players."
Richardson blamed turnovers for the Saints falling away in the second-half. They were in front by eight points at half-time but were outscored seven goals to two in the second half.
"The reality is we just turned the footy over too many times," he said. "The Eagles scored 8.8 on the back of turning our footy over.
"We were well and truly solid defensively but didn't maximise when we turned the footy over. We were able to achieve 41 midfield turnovers which is a pretty good number but weren't able to capitalise.
"We thought we were really strong in terms of effort and contest."
St Kilda plays Adelaide at Etihad Stadium next Sunday, April 13.
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