A WEEK of soul searching at St Kilda delivered the response that was needed, with the Saints staying alive in 2022 with a hard-earned 28-point win against West Coast at Optus Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With players on their last chance going into the must-win clash, the Saints did what was needed in the west to stay in touch with the top eight, kicking away late to win 14.6 (90) to 10.2 (62).
They were made to earn the valuable four points with the match in the balance early in the final quarter, but they showed the grit needed to win and were rewarded, kicking five of the last six goals in the run home.
EAGLES v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
Captain Jack Steele led from the front and was enormous at the coalface, finishing with a career-best 40 disposals and 11 clearances in a best-afield performance that set the tone for his team.
Small forward Dan Butler did the finishing, booting a career-best five goals, including two in the final quarter to make sure the Saints stay alive into the final month of the season.
The win leaves Brett Ratten's men equal on points with the eighth-placed Western Bulldogs on 10 wins. The 17th-placed Eagles remain locked on two wins and in a battle with North Melbourne at the bottom of the ladder.
Adam Simpson's men showed plenty of fight of their own, however, and looked the better team for periods of the game without capitalising on the scoreboard.
As well as Steele, midfielder Brad Crouch (31 and eight clearances) was hard working all day, while Tim Membrey (17 and two goals) stood up in some important moments.
RATTEN'S CAUTION Coach's worry over 'shifting' Optus Stadium surface
Young midfielder Marcus Windhager performed a magnificent shutdown role on Eagle Tim Kelly and won 23 disposals of his own, showing all of the fight that Ratten had asked of his team.
West Coast defender Tom Barrass was enormous for the second straight week, shutting down St Kilda star Max King and finishing with 26 disposals and eight marks.
The green shoots of a rebuild were evident in a much-improved performance from ruckman Bailey Williams (23 hit-outs and nine clearances) and midfielder Jai Culley (19 and a goal).
The match started in far from ideal circumstances for the visitors when Jack Billings was forced from the ground with a back disc issue after just four minutes.
The Eagles had the better of the opening term and answered every St Kilda challenge in the second until time on, when the Saints made their move and put a gap in the game.
Trailing by three points, Jack Higgins and Ben Long kicked back-to-back goals before Brad Crouch and Dan Butler added late majors to give their team a 16-point lead at the main break.
The second half started as the first had, with more injury concerns for the Saints after Jimmy Webster and Luke Shuey collided in pursuit of a contested ball, leaving Webster nursing a right shoulder injury.
The Eagles were dominant in general play and won the inside 50s (20-8) and clearances (11-5) convincingly for the quarter, but they didn't take enough advantage of their ascendency.
Jack Darling booted back-to-back goals halfway through the term to cut the margin to three points, but a late snap from Tim Membrey gave the visitors a nine-point advantage as they turned for home with their season on the line.
Response evident at the contest
The proof St Kilda's week of honest conversations was having an impact came early on with a focus on winning the contested ball. The match was an arm-wrestle and players were losing their feet on the slippery surface, but the Saints showed serious intent for the hard ball, eventually winning the contested possessions 151-131. The senior midfielders led the way, with Crouch (15), Steele (14) and Seb Ross (11) all consistently first to the ball. Substitute Ben Long didn't win a lot of the ball, but he set a standard with seven tackles after entering the game. After laying only 41 last week against the Western Bulldogs, including 13 in the first half, they finished with 68 against the Eagles.
Changing roles and kicking goals
Josh Rotham made his name as a defender but has been out of favour in the Eagles' backline this season, playing two games since the bye and toiling in the WAFL. Part of his role at the lower level has been as a back-up ruckman, leading to an SOS from West Coast this week to play as a makeshift big man against the Saints. Rotham showed some spring when in the centre bounces, but he was also eye-catching when rotating forward, kicking the first goal of his career late in the first quarter from a 50m set shot. In need of an opportunity after 10 games this season, it could be the start of something for the 24-year-old, who finished with two.
Saints shut down star pair
Tim Kelly and Luke Shuey had five disposals and three clearances between them at half-time, with Kelly copping a particularly hard tag from St Kilda youngster Marcus Windhager. Already nursing a corked quad from round 18, Kelly was forced forward for periods in the second half and finished with four touches. Shuey responded better and had seven disposals in the third quarter as the midfield rallied, finishing with 19. The match represented a big step forward for Windhager though, who did more than just stop his opponents, finishing with seven inside 50s to go with his 23 disposals.
WEST COAST 3.1 7.1 9.2 10.2 (62)
ST KILDA 2.2 9.5 10.5 14.6 (90)
West Coast: Darling 2, Kennedy 2, Rotham 2, Culley, Ryan, Waterman, Williams
St Kilda: Butler 5, Higgins 2, King 2, Membrey 2, Crouch, Long, Wood
West Coast: Barrass, Williams, Redden, Culley, Rotham, Kennedy
St Kilda: Steele, Butler, Crouch, Windhager, Sinclair, Membrey
West Coast: Nil
St Kilda: Billings (back), Webster (shoulder)
West Coast: Connor West (unused)
St Kilda: Ben Long (replaced Jack Billings in the first quarter)