It seemed like old times when the “Welcome Back Lethal” banner was unfurled in the Gabba stands on Sunday night.
But Brisbane hardly looked like Matthews’ premiership-winning teams of old, squandering a 57-point lead before holding on for a tense seven-point 15.10 (100) to 13.15 (93) AFL win over a resurgent Western Bulldogs.
A week after reeling from coach Michael Voss’ shock departure, the Lions lined up on Sunday night with yet another major distraction hanging over their heads.
Indeed their final home match of the year had become an after-thought after ex-mentor Matthews jumped on a rival ticket hoping to topple Lions chairman Angus Johnson as the race for master coach Paul Roos heated up again.
And a quick glance at the banner amongst the Gabba faithful on Sunday night would only have reminded the Lions players of the looming boardroom stoush.
However, at first the Lions seemed oblivious as they romped to a 13.2 (80) to 4.6 (30) halftime lead.
Brisbane were flying high after Dayne Zorko’s second consecutive running goal – and the Lions’ fifth straight – blew the deficit out to 57 points in the second term before settling for 50 by the main break.
Remarkably the Lions would only kick 2.8 for the rest of the game as the Bulldogs came roaring back.
At one stage the visitors kicked eight out of nine goals to reduce the deficit to just 10 points in the final term.
Lions tagger Andrew Raines appeared to boot a settling major for the hosts to blow the lead back out to 16.
But the Bulldogs’ Luke Dahlhaus made up for a point blank shank by kicking truly for a major moments later before Daniel Giansiracusa received a dubious 50m penalty to make it a five point game in the dying moments.
Somehow the 20,130-strong Gabba faithful willed the Lions to the gripping win – their sixth straight home victory of the year.
The Lions’ sixth win in eight games avenged their surprise 68-point opening round loss to the Bulldogs.
Brisbane had won only five first quarters in 2013 – the equal fewest of the any side.
However, the Lions jumped out of the blocks to lead 7.1 (43) to 2.5 (17) at the first break thanks to back-to-back goals to Daniel Merrett.
But the tide starting turning after Merrett was stretchered off early in the third term with a suspected ankle complaint.