It was a game that the Melbourne of recent years might easily have lost but Paul Roos hailed Sunday’s 24-point win over Brisbane as a significant sign of progress.
The Demons managed just one goal in the second half against the resurgent Lions but found a way to win – 8.12 (60) to 4.12 (36).
In a scrappy, error-riddled contest that reflected the lowly ladder positions of the two sides, Brisbane managing just one goal in their lowest first-half score of the season.
And while the Demons matched that meagre output in the second half, Roos praised his players’ ability to grind out a fifth win of the season – surpassing last year’s tally of four with seven games to play.
“The first half was really good, really positive, but I think the fact that we hung in the second half where we turned the ball over a lot … it’s an important win,” Roos said.
“We’ve been working so hard on our defence over the last 18 months and I thought our defence really kept us in the game. To keep a team to four goals, and I know they missed a few, is a great effort – it doesn’t matter who you play or where you play.”
The Lions actually got off to a reasonable start and led when Dayne Zorko danced around a pack and slotted a goal nine minutes in before his side fell away badly.
Melbourne, so disappointing in last week’s loss to injury-ravaged Essendon, were positively ferocious in comparison.
Bernie Vince, Jack Viney and Daniel Cross did the heavy lifting at the stoppages for the Demons, while Jesse Hogan was a powerful presence inside 50 with three goals in the first quarter.
Jeremy Howe was a calming influence in the back half, finishing the game with 13 marks that often headed off a Lions attack.
Melbourne led by 26 points at quarter-time and, while the scoring slowed in the second term, they still looked on course for a handsome win, up by 38 points at the main break.
But as has so often been the case in recent years, the Demons went missing for a quarter.
The Lions lost Pearce Hanley to a hamstring injury at halftime, but led by Dayne Beams and Zorko, they pushed back at Melbourne with an intensity that was sadly lacking before the break.
Goals to Mitch Robinson and Harris Andrews narrowed the gap and suddenly the Demons looked much less assured with the ball in hand.
Allen Christensen, one of few Lions of influence in the first half, brought the margin back to 20 points with the first goal of the final term.
But while it was far from convincing, Roos’s men held their nerve in the face of the challenge, with Hogan soothing frayed nerves with his fourth goal of the game.
Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch was unsure why his players appeared so flat in the first half and was left to lament the uneven performance that delivered the last-placed Lions their eight loss in a row.
“You always wonder why things can’t happen for a full game,” Leppitsch said.
“It’s been our issue for a while.
“Normally (contested possession) is the issue for us but that wasn’t an issue today and our ball flow has been okay when we’re up and running but today (it wasn’t).
“You fix one thing and another thing falls by the wayside.”