Best still to come: Buckley
Hang on: Collingwood's Ben Johnson fumbles as he is tackled by Dylan Addison last night. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
COLLINGWOOD coach Nathan Buckley praised his team's grit but said there was plenty of improvement to come after it ground out a 21-point win over the Western Bulldogs last night.
The Magpies led by a point at three-quarter-time but had enough run and composure in the final term at Etihad Stadium to post their fourth win, claim the Robert Rose Cup and remain firmly in contention for the top four.
But the win is likely to come at some cost, with veteran midfielder Ben Johnson subbed off at half-time with a shoulder injury.
Key defender Easton Wood added to the Bulldogs' casualty ward when he limped off in the third term with a hamstring strain.
Buckley was delighted with the effort his men showed, particularly in the final term.
''I still think from that performance we clearly have a lot of improvement in us, but you can only ever beat the opponent you have in front of you at the time,'' he said.
''You can only deal with the circumstances presented. Our last-quarter effort, in particular, to get the game on terms, was good.
''The Bulldogs were true to their form over the last couple of weeks. They worked very hard for each other on the spread to get from the stoppage to the next contest, whether it's forward or back. That's clearly what they were able to do to us early in the game. It took us a while to adjust. Eventually, it was a good performance to do so and then grind a win out.''
Scott Pendlebury (34 possessions) was best afield, and Dayne Beams (33), in a new role as inside-midfielder, was superb, while Ryan Griffen (33), who went head-to-head with Pendlebury, was equally as influential for the Bulldogs.
Dane Swan, who had only three disposals to quarter-time, finished with 29, while Heath Shaw was another Magpie to find plenty of the ball.
''We are not at our peak yet, we are building,'' Buckley said. He said ruckman Cameron Wood, with 10 disposals and 33 hitouts as a late inclusion for Darren Jolly, ''stood up and held up his end of the bargain''.
The Magpies, having a nine-day break since their Anzac Day win over Essendon, appeared lethargic and looked surprised by the Bulldogs' dash in the first term.
Bulldogs' coach Brendan McCartney would later point to mistakes in the second and final terms. He was disappointed with his team's inability to match the Magpies in contested possession in the final term.
''We had a good chat, the leaders and myself and the senior players, and we felt we just didn't smash in aggressively enough for long enough,'' he said. ''The contested-ball count got out of control in the last quarter, they outnumbered us around the ball. We have got to become a club and we will become a club that is physical and fights to the death.''
Travis Cloke was well held for most of the night by Brian Lake but the key forward had an impact when it mattered most, booting a key goal on the cusp of three-quarter-time and another to start the final term that gave his team crucial momentum.
Lake kicked a superb long goal from near the boundary in the final term but it would be the Dogs' only goal in the final 40 minutes.