St Kilda were left ruing blown chances after coming agonisingly close to a shock AFL win over Essendon.
Saints veteran Adam Schneider missed two shots on goal in the pulsating last term and his understudy small forward Jack Lonie could not convert another as the Bombers won by two points.
But the 11.16 (82) to 11.14 (80) result was an encouraging step forward for the young Saints after their bad fadeouts against Collingwood and Carlton.
“When you get the opportunity to win the game and you’re running into an open goal and you miss, that’s tough,” Saints coach Alan Richardson said, referring to the second of Schneider’s errant shots.
“Because they worked so hard, you’re really pleased and proud of the guys giving themselves the opportunity.
“You just want them to have that ultimate reward.”
The tight game – there were 11 lead changes – hinged on a passage of play 18 minutes into the last term.
First, Essendon Paddy Ambrose handballed straight to an opponent as the ‘Dons were going into attack and the Saints rebounded.
Schneider marked, 35m out, and if he had kicked a straightforward goal they would have been 10 points up.
But he missed and the Bombers moved the ball quickly from the kickout.
Travis Colyer took possession in the middle and ignited the afterburners for an outstanding running goal.
It proved to be the last lead change of the game, with Schneider off balance when he snapped from the top of the goalsquare and missing again.
Lonie’s snap at goal earlier in the quarter came off his boot badly and went out of bounds.
Richardson strongly defended his two goalsneaks.
“He’s a ripper,” Richardson said of Schneider.
“If you have someone miss shots like that, but they’re not doing the work on the training track, then you get incredibly frustrated.
“Of course we’re disappointed – he’d be incredibly disappointed – but he’s doing the work.
“He missed them today, he’ll get them next time.”
Similarly, Richardson praised Lonie for his two goals and 20 disposals.
“He looks in the mirror and he sees Hulk Hogan coming back the other way,” Richardson said.
“He doesn’t see little Jack Lonie and he plays accordingly.”
Saints onballer David Armitage was best afield and key forward Josh Bruce also starred with five goals.
Richardson said captain Nick Riewoldt and fellow veteran Leigh Montagna are strong chances to return for next Saturday’s game against the in-form Western Bulldogs.
Bombers captain Jobe Watson led the crucial counter-attack in the second term when the Saints were up by 20 points.
Essendon kicked the last three goals of the half to only trail by a point, setting the scene for a riveting second half.
Four days shy of his 40th birthday, Dustin Fletcher was also prominent before he suffered a head knock in the third term and briefly went off the field as a concussion substitute.