Imagine my disappointment when I discovered over the weekend that this – not Tigers-Lions, as I’d previously thought – would be the final Friday night game of the home-and-away season.
Another intriguing contest awaits, with the injury-hit Dogs well within the reach of the rising Pies.
They didn’t outscore Richmond last week, but Collingwood were the better side, and should feel confident of pushing another finalist to the limit.
It wasn’t the most spectacular game of football you’ll witness, but last Friday night’s game was probably one that the Pies win eight times out of ten if it were played on repeat.
Neither side could manufacture offensive potency, and in the end it was Richmond’s relatively stronger forward line that could make the most of the miserly entries generated.
The fact of the matter is that Collingwood played half a quarter of good football, very good football in fact, and they were still only 15 points worse than the falling Tigers. Their second half record is in keeping with a young team on the rise, and fans should feel very comfortable with the team’s trajectory heading into 2017.
Collingwood get a chance to take down another more fancied opponent tonight, with the Dogs sporting a mixed form line since the middle of the year. Footscray have played in four close games (final margin of 12 points or less) and won all four, and have also won a game by 14 and lost another by 15. All told they’ve managed to keep putting up Ws despite their noted absentees.
This game projects as another tricky one for the Dogs to navigate, with Collingwood’s strength undoubtedly through the middle of the ground, and their weaknesses at the bookends. That happens to be the Dogs’ biggest challenge right now, with their absentees and development track holding back both pointy ends of the ground.
In many ways, next year’s match up between these two sides, with presumably fit and healthy lists, will be of great interest. The Dogs like to play small in their defence, while the Pies have two very good mid-to-small forwards in Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo, and presumably Dane Swan, which would make for intriguing match ups. Indeed, there’s a chance that Collingwood’s whole forward line is filled with five different players than it is tonight. That’s for next year.
The midfield battle between these two sides looms as a delight. Collingwood have resisted the temptation to ice Scott Pendlebury for the rest of the year, meaning the Pies will combat the depth of the Dogs with their first choice set. With James Aish looking less and less like a sack of potatoes by the week, Collingwood’s midfield is falling into place nicely for 2017.
We might even get to see master Pendlebury up against his apprentice (of sorts) in Marcus Bontempelli. Neither of them are quick, but they move faster than anyone else on the football field. The Bont’s specifications are like someone took the perfection of Pendlebury and thought to themselves “what if we put this in a key forward’s body”.
I rated him the number one young player in the competition coming into the season, and fellow writer Jay Croucher thinks he’s something special, too. Can’t we have this match up, even just for five minutes?
It may not even need to be a direct match up. Both teams like to throw numbers at the ball when things are going well, and double down on this strategy when they aren’t. The Dogs, in their injury-riddled state, have be forced to become more negative than they’d like, and their scoring power has suffered.
Since Round 12, the Western Bulldogs rank 15th on my Offensive Efficiency Rating system (OER) with a rating of -9.9. Behind them sit just Fremantle, Essendon and Carlton. Scoring hasn’t been this team’s strength all year, but it has become an even more significant challenge in recent times. It comes despite the Dogs owning a relatively strong inside 50 differential of +4.8 per game.
There is still time to turn it around – season-long averages don’t matter a great deal in individual games, and if the Dogs are ever going to tune up their attack in 2016, tonight is their opportunity. Collingwood have named an extremely flakey backline, headlined by ‘The Last of the Old School Defenders’ Nathan Brown, ably assisted by Tyson Goldsack, and flanked by three guys with a combined 53 games of AFL experience. “Jeremy Howe is flakey” is a clarifying sentence used in spelling bees around the world.
(and yes I am aware “flakey” isn’t actually a word)
It’s a game tailor made for the out-of-form/regressor Jake Stringer and unfairly-maligned Tom Boyd to kick many goals. The 200cm Boyd should find conditions particularly amenable, given none of Collingwood’s stocks are either as tall or as heavy as the Dogs’ main man. Stringer has the nous to shame young defenders, but for one reason or another hasn’t captured his best 2015 form for all but fleeting moments.
Collingwood have been much improved over their early season form but are just too lacking at either end of the ground to confidently predict they’ll both score and stop the Dogs from scoring. Equally, a depleted Dogs midfield still matches up quite well against this Collingwood group, eliminating the edge that the Pies managed to eek out over the more shallow top eight sides they’ve knocked off this season.
Footscray’s midfield depth and ability to shutdown even the most potent scoring sides will be too much for Collingwood to handle, and I’m predicting the Dogs will take this by 24 points.
I don’t see this one being an all-timer, nor a high scoring affair. Indeed, there’s a risk it turns into a scrap, and early. But as Jay put so aptly yesterday, when you can tune in to watch two craftsmen of the ilk of Bontempelli and Pendlebury handle the ball 20-odd times each, it’s worth the anger and frustration of 600 less mystic possessions.
That’s my Friday Night Forecast, what’s yours?