Is this what sparked the Crows’ slide down the ladder in 2018 and 2019?
The faithful gathered at the Adelaide Oval on a cold and misty night for the first of the biannual local grudge match.
A Port home game and a sell-out on a wintry evening, the assembled crowd reflected the hope and promise that swells in the heart of every Power true believer that this is our year.
By contrast, the minimal Crows contingent, those souls brave or foolhardy enough to attend the black, teal and blue event, no doubt buoyed by a hard-fought win against Fremantle last week, would feel justifiably nervous about their side’s erratic form in the face of the mob representative of the reclaimed swamps between the city and the sea.
Initially the Adelaide venue seemed to have warped back a week in time, with a tight low-scoring battle resembling the four-quarter heart-stopper from the previous week. Both sides showed commitment to the contest, which would have pleased fans of either persuasion.
The damp conditions made clean possession difficult, but the Crows appeared all night to have an ability to read the passing intent of the Power, resulting in a series of intercepted kicks, handballs and smothers that blunted Port’s otherwise aggressive and purposeful play. It translated into a small lead for the ‘away’ team at the end of the first break.
Port youngster Ryan Burton left the ground towards the end of the first quarter with a probable hamstring injury picked up while playing on Eddie Betts. This could have been a game-turner, with Betts being a potential matchwinner, but in the end he was well held by second-choice Dan Houston.
The second and third quarters were dominated by Adelaide, who built on Port’s errors through the midfield and in attack to establish a strong lead. Although having only one extra shot on goal, the Crows finished far better, kicking goals when Port were kicking points.
In a cramped and desperate rain-affected contest quality possession and fewer errors probably became the difference between two highly committed teams. At this point the players who would win the game emerged for the Crows. Tom Lynch kicked three quality goals that broke the game open. Rory Laird and Alex Heath, the latter best on ground, racked up interceptions and possessions, trapping Port in their defensive half and creating opportunities for the Crows attack.
Occasionally Port showed glimmers of pace and skill, but at the other end the Adelaide defence manned up and gave the Power forwards no space, a point emphasised when in one attack four individual Power forwards failed to score despite one-on-one contests within 30 metres of the goals – they had been worried out of it by a close-checking Crows defence who finished up by clearing the attacking zone.
The never-say-die attitude of the Power and the instinctive pessimism of Crows fans almost seemed to manifest their collective combined will in the final quarter when Port Adelaide finally asserted their game plan and fired five goals in a row, dominating the first two thirds of the final term and reducing a 44-point lead to just two goals, but Adelaide steadied and Tex Walker settled the matter with a casual mark and major five minutes out. The Crows then slowed the game and re-established their control, frustrating the Alberton crowd and their sense of destiny for at least one more week.
It was a good win for the Crows in a hostile arena, and while the skill level was a bit below par, the competitiveness of the players and Port’s late surge made it an exciting contest.
However, questions remain for both sides in a tough competition with no strong form line. Can the Crows continue to improve and present as a focused attacking unit in the finals? Will Port Adelaide be able to construct an avenue to goal around a young unproven group?