NORTH Melbourne maintained its unbeaten status by just four points after a tense struggle with Melbourne at Casey Fields on Sunday.
The win was tinged with controversy after a free kick allowed tall forward Emma King to boot her third goal to regain the lead early in the last quarter and the Kangaroos held on for a 6.2 (38) to 5.4 (34) triumph.
The rampaging Roos twice surrendered the lead in the second half before a mix of persistence and fate handed them their fourth consecutive win.
Lively forward Aliesha Newman shot Melbourne into the lead when she kicked her second goal from a mark in the last term.
But North Melbourne refused to yield and King, who had nearly 10 centimetres height advantage over Demons defender Harriet Cordner, was deemed to have been infringed in a marking contest only 20m out directly in front.
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This was a contest that showcased the best of the women's game with clean disposal, fast rebound and fierce tackling between two desperate teams.
While the battle between two classy midfields, the Roos led by Emma Kearney and Jamie Stanton against Demon counterparts Elise O'Dea and Karen Paxman, was probably a dead heat, it was ultimately North Melbourne's ability to convert chances inside the forward 50 that decided what was a genuine cliffhanger.
The biggest margin was the Roos' 13-point lead early in the second quarter as both teams probed to break open the contest.
Melbourne quickly erased a 10-point half-time deficit when Newman unleashed one of her trademark dashes to goal on the run. And the Demons hit the front for the first time when Tyla Hanks snapped truly three minutes later.
Typically, North Melbourne hit back strongly and Moana Hope, a menacing presence up forward, took a hotly contested mark and goaled from 40m to give the Roos a narrow edge heading into the final term.
With the temperature at 32 degrees, the contest was played at a furious pace, with clean ball-handling indicative of the collective skills of both high-ranked teams.
Melbourne attempted to control the play with its precise passing by hand and foot. And the Kangaroos looked to hurt the Demons with their intercept and rebound.
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It was only a couple of crucial free kick decisions that separated these evenly matched combatants on the scoreboard and allowed the Kangaroos to edge ahead in the second quarter.
King earned a holding free kick from a one-out marking contest and converted from only 20m out early in the term.
And Roo Sophie Abbatangelo was never going to miss from a free kick in a goal square scrimmage for the ball late in the same quarter.
Melbourne coach Mick Stinear executed a deft verbal sidestep when confronted with a query over the free kick that allowed North Melbourne forward Emma King to kick what would be the winning goal. "She was quite dangerous up forward and put our defenders under a fair bit of pressure. You don't like to see games decided that way, but that's the way it went today," he said. Stinear preferred to focus on coming battles in a bid to earn a top two spot in the most competitive of the two conferences. "We're confident of taking on any team and we're prepared for anything that comes. We feel like our team is playing good footy. We were slightly off today and North took advantage of that. We've got to get back to work and do the little things well this week," he said.
As a former marquee player, Moana Hope cops more than her share of criticism and she certainly answered it this time. Hope was almost as dangerous up forward as King with her mix of strength and speed. Not only did she kick two goals herself, but she set up King's first goal with a superb baulk and spearing pass onto her tall teammate's chest. "We play her in a role that suits the team. A lot of her attributes are seen without a lot of goals and points. Today she got on the scoreboard, but we value her game on things to do with pressure acts, spoiling particularly and her leading patterns because she takes a defender up the field opens up the forward line for others," Roos coach Scott Gowans said.
Got the job done
Lively Demons forward Aliesha Newman came close to being crowned the hero after an admirable second-half comeback. Rarely sighted for two quarters, she put her stamp on the contest early in the third term when she burst clear, took two bounces and fired through a goal to start cutting into North Melbourne's lead. And Newman judged a floating high ball to perfection to take a low mark and slot her second goal in the last quarter that put her team back in front.
North Melbourne is confident teenage forward Courteney Munn will be back for next weekend's crucial clash with Adelaide. Munn, who kicked four goals on debut last round before being sidelined with a calf muscle injury, is vital to allow the ladder leaders to utilise King for ruck duties, particularly for the important centre bounce takeaways. "Emma King is imposing as a forward. The trouble is you take her out of the ruck and Kate Gillespie-Jones is an undersized ruck who does the job following up at stoppages, but she's never going to win the hitouts against the big rucks of the competition. So, it's a matter of getting the timing right. I would like to have two of her (King)," Gowans said.
"Good sides always find a way to win and I think we did that today. We weren't able to play the way we want to play, so we had to find a different way and we got there. But I'd say it was an unconvincing win." - North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans
"It's disappointing not to come away with the result. It was just our fundamentals at some critical times, a missed handball or dropped mark and didn't execute the kick and North are a quality side and made us pay. We weren't able to take our opportunities and they took theirs and in a close game they got rewarded." - Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
Melbourne is heading north again, this time to play Greater Western Sydney at Blacktown on Sunday afternoon. North Melbourne will host Adelaide at Avalon Airport Oval two hours later.
MELBOURNE 1.0 2.3 4.4 5.4 (34)
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.1 4.1 5.1 6.2 (38)
Melbourne: Newman 2, Phillips, Cunningham, Hanks
North Melbourne: Emma King 3, Hope 2, Abbatangelo
Melbourne: Paxman, Hore, Mithen, O'Dea, Pearce
North Melbourne: Kearney, Emma King, Stanton, Duffin, Hope
North Melbourne: Nil
Umpires: Heffernan, Baigent, Toner
Crowd: 4227 at Casey Fields, Cranbourne