Fremantle’s finals hopes are still alive and kicking, but not before weathering a scare from lowly Melbourne in a 34-point win at Etihad Stadium today.
The Demons led for the bulk of the game, but injuries to key players ultimately took their toll and allowed the Dockers to storm over the top of them in the final term to post a vital 18.9 (117) to 12.11 (83) victory.
It put them equal on premiership points with eighth-placed North Melbourne.
Both teams copped blows before the game even started. Veteran Fremantle defender Antoni Grover strained a buttock muscle in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Lee Spurr, while Melbourne’s Luke Tapscott was forced out with a sore groin.
It gave James Strauss his first senior game since breaking his leg last year.
Dockers captain Matthew Pavlich, a goal-kicking force over the past month, surprisingly started in the middle of the ground and won the first kick out. But in a quarter where neither team mustered an effective defensive set-up, it would soon be the Demons who would make more of their space.
Tom Couch, son of 1989 Brownlow Medallist, Paul, came on for his debut after only two minutes and he provided a compelling half to underline why Melbourne finally took a chance on the mature-aged recruit.
The Demons booted the first three goals of the match to have the Dockers on the back foot from the outset. By quarter time, they had garnered 34 more possessions and were clearly winning in the crucial contested side of the game.
But they also lost ruckman Mark Jamar in the first quarter after he re-injured a calf muscle.
Melbourne doubled Fremantle’s poor score of just 20 points in the first term, but with Stephen Hill and Hayden Ballantyne igniting the visitors, the fight-back was on.
The Dockers were able to better block up the Demons’ space in the second quarter, but they struggled to replicate their dominance on the scoreboard. After 10 minutes, Fremantle had been into their forward zone 8-1 and Melbourne were making some horrific defensive mistakes. But they often went unpunished.
A perfect late set shot for goal by Pavlich cut the margin back to just 13 points at the long break, but there was plenty work to be done if the Dockers were to break a three-match losing spree to the Demons in Melbourne.
Three goals unanswered goals in the first 12 minutes after the re-start gave Fremantle the lead for the first time in the match as returned forward Michael Walters started to wield a heavy influence.
Then when Melbourne forward Jamie Bennell went down with a season-ending ACL injury, the Dockers looked to have everything going their way.
But their scoring inexplicably dried up for the next 10 minutes and the Demons fired back into the contest to sneak back away to a 20-point advantage with Jordie McKenzie locking down on Hill and Sam Blease kicking a sensational goal on the run from 50 metres.
Walters and Pavlich then kicked goals to cut the deficit back to seven points with a quarter to play and the game was still well and truly up for grabs.
Melbourne saw snapped chances to Jared Rivers and Jack Grimes go begging early in the final term and Fremantle made them pay with four consecutive goals as David Mundy, Michael Barlow and Chris Mayne started to cap what had already been sound performances by the pair.
Then when Pavlich booted his fourth goal at the 14-minute mark, the Dockers were away by 21 points as the Demons appeared to have been stopped in their tracks.
Fremantle finished the match on an unanswered run of nine goals.
GOALS: FREMANTLE – Pavlich 4, Walters 3, Ballantyne, Barlow, Hill, Pearce 2, Mzungu, Bradley, Mayne 1. MELBOURNE – Green 3, Blease, Martin, Bail 2, Bate, Bennell, Sylvia 1.
BEST: FREMANTLE – Mundy, Pavlich, McPharlin, Hill, Ballantyne, Walters. MELBOURNE – Sylvia, Nicholson, Macdonald, Grimes, McDonald, Jones.