THE WESTERN Bulldogs have entered a form slump with finals right on the horizon, and coach Luke Beveridge says his side needs to arrest a worrying drop off in the midfield if it wants to make any impact come September.
The Dogs blew a vital opportunity to secure a top two spot on the ladder following a lacklustre 27-point defeat to Hawthorn on Saturday, which was the first time they had lost successive matches this season.
Luke Beveridge's star-studded midfield was overwhelmed by the Hawks, which won 10 of the 14 centre clearances in the upset win.
It was similar scenes in last week's loss to Essendon, when the Dogs lost the centre clearances by six and the clearances overall by 16.
Beveridge said post-game it was deeply disappointing his midfield struggled in the centre again, conceding this was having an effect on the momentum of the team.
"There was a bit at stake. We put a bit of a price on [being] in control of our own destiny, being able to secure top four and we missed an opportunity," Beveridge said.
"During the third quarter we started to get a little bit of momentum and a stranglehold of things but then we let them walk it out at centre bounces … it's uncharacteristic of how we've been.
"The momentum of our year has been stuttered and it's stifled a little bit for various reasons and we have got a big challenge to get ourselves going with the momentum we need to be any sort of threat at the end of the year."
HAWKS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
The Bulldogs are badly missing ruckman Stefan Martin, who has been out of action since round 12 with persistent hip and groin issues.
Beveridge has played down the chances of the veteran making a quick return to the side, but said his availability would be assessed after completing a training session at Whitten Oval this morning.
"He was lined up to have a more strenuous session so if he gets through that okay, then that'll indicate he might be some sort of chance to play," he said.
Meanwhile Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson was full of praise for his side's efforts knocking over a highly-fancied Dogs outfit on Saturday, especially after losing star midfielder Jaeger O’Meara shortly before the game.
The Hawks were also missing other important players such as James Worpel, Luke Breust and Jack Gunston.
Clarkson singled out Daniel Howe for praise, after he dominated for the Hawks with 34 disposals, 1.1 and 717 metres gained.
"He did play a really, really strong game today. On offence and defence his work on both sides of the ball was really strong," Clarkson said.
"It’s no surprise to us, he's played a really important role for us and I'm glad he got some recognition today because he's had a pretty strong season."
Saturday's win was Hawthorn's third victory in a row, and as Clarkson prepares to hand over the reins to Sam Mitchell next season, he hopes this hot late-season form can continue next week in his final game as Hawthorn coach.
"In 2006 we finished with four wins in the last part of the season and really launched into 2007 and a finals campaign," he said.
"I'm not suggesting that will necessarily happen, but I'd like to think our team is well-placed to bounce next year."