Josh Dunkley has delivered a supreme performance to drive the Western Bulldogs to a tense eight-point win over Melbourne and keep the Dogs in the AFL finals hunt.
Sunday’s 10.14 (74) to 9.12 (66) arm-wrestle victory at Marvel Stadium lifts the Dogs to 10th on the ladder, four points shy of sixth-placed GWS.
The Bulldogs were the superior team for much of the day but another wayward performance in front of goal threatened to cost them.
Having scored 1.8 in the third term to lead by a goal at the final break, the Dogs relinquished the lead when Bayley Fritsch and Christian Petracca hit the scoreboard.
But the Dogs responded through Dunkley, before goals to Lachie Hunter and Bailey Smith provided some breathing space.
The 22-year-old Dunkley was dominant from the start, racking up 39 disposals (24 contested) and 15 tackles while also booting two goals.
On a day when they wore commemorative guernseys to mark the 30th anniversary of the ‘Fightback’ campaign which saved Footscray from a merger with Fitzroy, the young Bulldogs showed plenty of grit.
Luke Beveridge’s men went a man down late in the first quarter when Toby McLean injured his left hamstring while being tackled by James Harmes.
Marcus Bontempelli also spent much of the second quarter off the ground after rolling his ankle and had Demons veteran Jordan Lewis for company at the stoppages, while Tim English was smashed by returning star Max Gawn in the ruck.
Bontempelli’s continued struggles in front of goal – having kicked 0.2 to take his season tally to 11.22 – wasn’t helping matters as the determined Demons kept the margin to single digits at every break.
The Bulldogs’ midfield ultimately proved the difference with Dunkley well supported by Hunter (37 disposals), Jackson Macrae and Taylor Duryea.
With the towering combination of Gawn and Braydon Preuss dominating the ruck, the Demons easily won the hitouts to advantage and clearances counts.
Youngster Harrison Petty (three goals) was also important up forward in the absence of injured pair Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman.
Demons defenders Jake Lever and Neville Jetta both made it through unscathed on return from respective knee injuries.
The loss leaves the Demons 16th on the ladder ahead of next week’s clash with premiers West Coast in Alice Springs.