MELBOURNE has kept its hopes of making the NAB AFL Women's finals alive by produced a nail-biting one-point win against the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
The Demons dominated much of the contest but failed to convert accurately, particularly in the opening quarter, when the Dogs didn't score.
However, the Dogs hit back with four straight goals from six inside 50s in the second quarter and wouldn't concede the lead until Melbourne key forward Tegan Cunningham took a great mark and converted her shot with just two minutes remaining.
The Demons' defence stood stall in the closing stages to keep the Dogs at bay.
Karen Paxman (24 disposals) was prolific all game while Elise O'Dea refused to relent.
For the Dogs, Monique Conti's class was instrumental in helping her side rebound after a slow start while Kirsty Lamb produced a magnificent performance, especially as the game wore on.
Aisling gets some air
The contested mark from Isabel Huntington was impressive enough, but she was bettered a moment later, when her set shot fell short. That proved to be to the Dogs' advantage though, because Aisling Utri flew four-deep to pull in a brilliant mark. It was good to see those two work together, after Utri had been on the end of some friendly fire from the No.1 pick in the 2017 NAB AFLW Draft.
Did you see that?
It was late in the first term, and Western Bulldogs defender Tiarna Ernst was running the ball out of defence. Kate Hore wasn't having any of it though and produced a brilliant chase-down tackle. That sparked a play that saw Cunningham mark at the top of the square, and she duly converted to give the Dees their first goal.
Missed it by that much
Shelley Scott's snap in the third term was off-line but the high bounce gave Tyla Hanks a chance, and it was a chance the Demons needed. They had dominated much of the match but found themselves trailing by six points. The footy bounced again as Hanks looked to trap it, but it bounced at a wicked angle and Melbourne was denied what would have been a sure goal.
The ladder now
It's all happening in Conference A. The Dees have another must-win clash next week, against third-placed Adelaide, which they are equal on 16 points with. However, the Crows haven't played this round and face Greater Western Sydney on Sunday on their home turf at Unley Oval. There's another clash next week that will be huge as well, when the top-two teams in Fremantle and North Melbourne meet at Fremantle Oval.
RACE FOR FINALS Where is your team placed?
"Relief (at seeing her shot go through). I didn't know how much time was left. There were still probably a few minutes to go, so it was just making sure that we got back to our spots and did it all again." - Melbourne forward Tegan Cunningham
"Part of our game was good tonight, like our pressure around the ball, but our ability to connect forward of centre, we really let ourselves down. We didn't take our opportunities, and the Bulldogs, they were clinical." - Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
"We made the decision to go with a run-with (player) with Paxman. I think she had 16 touches or something like that halfway through the second. We put Eleanor Brown on to her. An 18-year-old who was our first-round draft pick this year. Threw her the keys really and she went and played on Elise O'Dea for the first two minutes, and we were saying 'umm, wrong one'. She then went to Paxman and I think 'Pax' had 24 in the end, so the impact that (Eleanor) had was huge." - Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.0 4.0 5.2 6.2 (38)
MELBOURNE 1.5 2.6 4.7 5.9 (39)
Western Bulldogs: Utri, McCarthy, Ferres, Brennan, McLeod, Blackburn
Melbourne: Cunningham 2, Paxman, Gay, Zanker
Western Bulldogs: Conti, Lamb, Utri, Birch, Huntington, Blackburn
Melbourne: Paxman, O'Dea, Cunningham, Gay, Hore, Pearce
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Umpires: Toner, Gibson, McGinness
Official crowd: 10,612 at Marvel Stadium