St Kilda withstood an early onslaught from a pint-sized Brisbane Lions outfit to post a comfortable 22-point victory at the Gabba on Sunday.
Down by 29 points at one stage in the opening term, the Saints recovered to kick nine of the next 11 goals and then held their nerve as the game went down to the wire in front of 16,898 fans.
Two goals in two minutes from Maverick Weller at the start of the final quarter gave St Kilda the breathing space they needed to claim the 16.12 (108) to 13.8 (86) result, with the fumbly Lions unable to mount a creditable comeback.
Skipper Nick Riewoldt kicked four goals and hauled in 10 marks in his return from a one-week concussion layoff, while midfielder David Armitage’s 31 touches and 11 clearances largely sparked the comeback.
Brisbane’s Ryan Lester also booted four goals and proved the unlikely answer to the question of who would fill the void up forward left by the injured Daniel McStay.
Beset by an horrendous injury crisis, the Lions were already running out of talls before the pre-match withdrawal of defender Darcy Gardiner (calf), which left them with surely one of the most vertically-challenged teams in recent memory.
They had just four genuine big men – ruckmen Stefan Martin and Matthew Leuenberger and key defenders Harris Andrews and Justin Clarke.
The scenario made it all the more puzzling that Brisbane struggled so badly at ground level, with the majority of St Kilda’s goals coming from zippy work at contests or sloppy Lions turnovers.
Martin was Brisbane’s best, collecting 25 possessions, 31 hitouts and seven clearances, shading Dayne Beams, who had a game-high 38 disposals and seven tackles.
Brisbane kicked the first five goals of the match on their way to an opening-term tally of 7.1 (43) – their best return from any quarter this year.
But they failed to show the same potency when they had the ball holed up in St Kilda’s defensive 50 early in the final term, when the game was on the line.
The Lions also lost Ryan Harwood, who was substituted out in the second stanza with concussion, while Clarke could find himself in the crosshairs of the match review panel after chopping down St Kilda defender Daniel McKenzie at a marking contest in the last quarter.