COLLINGWOOD 2.3 6.6 9.7 11.10 (76) PORT ADELAIDE 1.0 5.7 8.8 10.10 (70)
GOALS Collingwood: Cloke 3, Sidebottom 2, Broomhead 2, Beams, Blair, Elliott, Dwyer. Port Adelaide: Hartlett 4, Monfries, Moore, Wingard, Schulz, Gray, Boak.
BEST: Collingwood: Beams, Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Cloke, Lumumba, Frost. Port Adelaide: Wines, Broadbent, Hartlett, O'Shea, Westhoff, Ebert.
UMPIRES Jeffery, Nicholls, Margetts.
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Collingwood has moved back into the top eight with a gritty six-point win over Port Adelaide at the MCG after a see-sawing affair.
CROWD 32,804 at MCG.
This match had the quality of two teams clinging to the wreckage, knowing that it would only bear one of them. Both had found wins scarce in the past two months. Port had to keep a fingerhold on the top four and its once bold premierships designs. In popular imagination, it had slipped to first of the also-rans. Collingwood was clawing at a fast receding place in the top eight and an ambition it did not really have this year, but others were nurturing on its behalf.
Long passages of the footy reflected this dynamic. Quiet desperation was the keynote, lowlight football for the twilight zone, but interspersed with flashes of the inspiration of old. At one point, even the ball deflated, and so became a flat football for flat footballers. It wasn't for lack of effort, energy or ideas. It was just that both sides had lost their previous zip and zest, and were casting about for it.
At its best this season, Port moved like a hoverfoil. This night, even when it was on top, it played at the pace of treading water. One of the effects was that three times in the second quarter, Collingwood defenders were able to backtrack metres to the goal square to make rushed behinds out of what looked certain Port goals. This was the spirit of the newly retired and this day feted Nick Maxwell, moving in the makeshift Magpies.
Port, on coach Ken Hinkley's admission, is shot for confidence. Collingwood, as admitted by coach Nathan Buckley, lacks efficiency. It was not as if the Magpies did not give themselves plenty of chances on Sunday. It was just that for all their touches, they took nearly all night to get purchase on the lifeline.
Not for the first time, Travis Cloke was the barometer. When Collingwood did string together a series of foot and handpasses to slip the ball from the back pocket to Cloke in the forward pocket, he missed. Cloke, furious at himself, redoubled his efforts. When he was unsure whether a goal square mark of many hands would be paid, he did not wait, but scythed his way through the pack as if with a machete and kicked the goal anyway. Cloke cannot have worked harder in any game this season, and deserved his three goals.
That was desperation. The inspiration rediscovered? Look no further than Chad Wingard's blind snap from the forward pocket. He didn't. There was also Hamish Hartlett's classy 10-minute, three-goal burst in the third quarter, which early this season would have founded victory for Port, but this night acted as a fragment of memory. The Magpies had their own uplifting moments. Sidebottom provided the last, sprinting half the length of the ground to read a ball off the pack in the goal square and poke home what became the game-killing goal.
Both teams rediscovered a little of their formerly cocky selves, but only Collingwood kept hold of the plank and now will hope to turn it into a platform. Buckley thought it was the Magpies' best game for 10 weeks.
Dayne Beams, Scott Pendlebury and Sidebottom played classic matches for Collingwood, Ollie Wines, Matthew Broadbent and Hartlett were paragons of industry and class for Port.
None of the first three quarters were asked or given, but in the last, it was the Magpies who found a level of steeliness that might also have been transfused from Maxwell, first to sustain a forward push until it had a two goals-plus lead, then to withstand Port's inevitable return of fire in the last 10 heart-stopping minutes.
Tyson Goldsack characterised the attitude; when shoved into a behind post by Wingard, he and the post both wobbled, then both stabilised.
The standard play in this denoument was a mighty Maxwellian fist over the top. Thus Collingwood lived to float another day.