WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.1 7.4 10.4 14.7 (91) MELBOURNE 1.3 3.4 10.5 13.7 (85)
Goals: Western Bulldogs: J Stringer 4, M Bontempelli 2, S Crameri 2, L Dahlhaus, L Hunter, M Boyd, M Honeychurch, S Higgins, W Minson.
BEST: Western Bulldogs: Boyd, Stevens, Bontempelli, Dahlhaus, Stringer, Murphy.
Umpires: Jacob Mollison, Ray Chamberlain, David Harris.
Official Crowd: 24,953 at Etihad Stadium.
Bulldogs youngster Marcus Bontempelli was the hero as the Western Bulldogs held off a surging Melbourne to claim a stunning six-point win at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The Dogs surrendered a 37-point second-quarter lead to trail by a goal in the dying minutes of the game before Bontempelli stepped in with two goals, the second a brilliant right-foot snap in traffic up against the boundary line that put his side six points up with just over three minutes to play.
The Demons made several forward thrusts as they desperately tried to level the scores, with Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney delighted with the manner in which his team was able to see out the pressure-packed contest.
"There were a couple of experienced players out there at the end that just had a really clear, calm head and that helps," McCartney said.
"The young boys brought the exuberance and the talent and the older boys delivered some good sense.
"Belief is a big thing in this game and it's incredible with developing teams how belief can drive effort. You can actually find a bit more in yourself.
"The definition of belief is to do it a few times and get through the other side and that's nearly our sixth or seventh game [with a margin] under a goal or so. I'm sure there's a lot more to come … [but] that's how teams evolve."
Cam Pedersen got the Demons off to the start they were after when he marked strongly and kicked the first goal of the game, but it was one of the few bright spots in a first half punctuated by skill errors by Melbourne players that coach Paul Roos labelled "horrible" and "diabolical".
Bulldogs debutant Mitch Honeychurch booted a goal with his first kick in the AFL to get the Dogs rolling with their ascendancy around the stoppages the key as they put on four unanswered goals.
Mitch Wallis got the job on Nathan Jones and he kept the Demons skipper quiet in the first quarter, while Matthew Boyd was important at the coalface for the Dogs, who led by 16 points at the first break.
The defensive running Roos has worked hard to bring into Melbourne's game was sadly lacking in the second quarter as the surging Bulldogs looked to have the game in their keeping with another three unanswered goals stretching their lead to 37 points.
Jake Stringer kicked two of his career-best tally of four goals in the second with one coming from a contentious deliberate rushed behind call after he tackled the defender Rohan Bail over the line.
The Demons were looking down the barrel of a demoralising defeat, but Max Gawn gave them some hope when he ran onto a loose ball to kick his side's first goal in over 45 minutes with a quick follow-up major to Jack Watts slicing the margin to 24 points at half-time.
Roos said he didn't wave any magic wands at half-time, but it was a different Melbourne side that emerged after the break with Jeremy Howe a catalyst with several intercept marks across half-back.
The Demons moved the ball with fluency and courage that was nowhere in evidence in the first half with Mark Jamar, who finished with 43 hit-outs and three goals, kicking back-to-back majors.
With Liam Jones subbed out having failed to register a kick, Stringer was the Dogs' danger man up front and he added his fourth as his team steadied through the middle of the quarter, but Melbourne put on a three-goal burst to snatch a one-point lead at three-quarter-time.
After a see-sawing final term that saw the Dogs retake the lead, the Demons took a step closer to their first win at Etihad Stadium since round 19 of the 2007 season when Jack Grimes weaved through traffic to goal and put his side in front with six minutes to play.
But it was to end in a heartbreaking 18th successive loss at the venue after Bontempelli's late heroics.
"In AFL footy if you don't come ready to play you end up six goals behind," Roos said.
"It's obviously still part of us as a club learning – you can't turn up to a game and not come ready to play.
"When we started to play the way, we wanted to play, we played really well. It's just that ability to front up week in, week out that the boys really struggle with at the moment."