Coach Luke Beveridge admitted the Western Bulldogs dodged a bullet in their 21-point victory over injury-ravaged Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday.
When young forward Darcy Moore went off early in the last quarter after hurting his collarbone, the Magpies were left with no fit players on the interchange bench – a first for Nathan Buckley in a playing and coaching career spanning 20 years.
Defender Alan Toovey was the first Magpie to depart the match after being heavily concussed in the second term.
The injury crisis got much worse in the third quarter, with midfielder Taylor Adams damaging his left hamstring, while forward Alex Fasolo had his match ended by a left shoulder problem.
Moore’s collarbone injury was the final straw with Collingwood unable to make any interchanges for the concluding 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs duly wrested the initiative, kicking five goals to one in the fourth quarter to win 11.8 (74) to 7.11 (53).
“To Collingwood’s credit, I think they ended up with just 18 left and they really ground it out. They showed great courage and we were fortunate enough in the end to win,” said Beveridge, who lamented an uncommonly high number of turnovers by his team.
“It was only our defensive side of it that kept our head above water and allowed us to come over the top in the end.
“Part of that was our players’ persistence, but a significant part of it was that Collingwood only had 18 players.”
The Collingwood coaching staff were keen to get Fasolo back into the fray in the final quarter, before admitting it was a lost cause.
“We needed the legs but we just weren’t able to get him up,” said Buckley.
“We want to win a game of footy but we’ve got a duty of care at the same time.”
Buckley felt the Magpies should have been much more than three points ahead at three-quarter time, given the balance of play.
“Forty-four inside 50s for six goals in the first three quarters and not taking advantage of our domination of the play for the most part of that,” he said.
“We could have put a gap in them and that cost us the game, ultimately.”
Midfielders Luke Dahlhaus, Lachie Hunter and Tom Liberatore and stand-in skipper Easton Wood were among the best players for the Bulldogs, who improved their win-loss record to 7-3.
The Magpies got great returns from rebounding backman Jeremy Howe and onball stars Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom.
Out-of-favour forward Travis Cloke will now be in the frame for a recall with Collingwood needing to call on fresh troops before returning to the MCG next Sunday to take on Port Adelaide.
The Bulldogs’ next challenge is against West Coast at Etihad Stadium.