MELBOURNE'S leaders are bewildered by the stinging criticism directed towards their coach, saying an inexplicable lack of effort and not the coach or his game plan has been to blame for the winless start to the season.
Nathan Jones said yesterday the external image of Mark Neeld as a tough coach who had come in too aggressively and lost his players ''could not be further from the truth''.
''He definitely came in and set standards, but he has come from a successful club and has seen where we were and where Collingwood were,'' he said.
''And it is the same as Craigy [Neil Craig], [and other assistant coaches] Jade Rawlings and Leigh Brown, they have come from clubs that are successful and they saw, as an entire footy club across the board, that we needed to lift our performance. Before we even played footy we needed to lift our performance in training and recovery and all those things.
''Neeldy was staunch on the areas we had to lift our game in for us to start to grow. So Neeldy from the day he came in it was 'this is how it is going to be, these are the expectations and standards we want to reach'.
''He could not be any more open and encouraging. He is open to giving feedback no matter who it is and how you are going, but there are also non-negotiables. And the perception that is out there at the moment could not be further from the truth. He has just set a standard and it is an elite standard that we want to get to. We want to be a club that plays finals footy.''
Jones said the game plan was different but not difficult to grasp, the issue was simply that players were not yet playing it instinctively.
He and club co-captain Jack Grimes yesterday fielded questions as the Demons endured more scrutiny after their miserable winless start to the season, in which they have lost games by an average 57-point margin.
Champion Data statistics highlight the Demons' troubles on game day. They allow the opposition to hit a target 76 per cent of the time - the highest of any side. They concede an average of 64 inside-50s and 17 goals a match - the most of any side. The Demons average 303 disposals a match - the lowest of any side - and average 98 fewer disposals, 19 fewer marks and 25 fewer inside-50s a match compared with their opposition.
The Demons average just nine goals a match - ranked 17th and only in front of Greater Western Sydney - and average eight marks a match inside-50 - the equal-worst in the competition.
''We have a few guys that haven't been playing as well as they have in the past. A few guys are adjusting to different roles and that sort of thing,'' Grimes said.
''We are trying to help guys through it. Guys like Aaron [Davey], who is playing a bit of a different role to what he was last year. We will help him through that.''
Grimes said the Demons had spoken to the enigmatic Colin Sylvia about his jovial on-field behaviour after the 101-point thrashing by Sydney last Saturday.
''I think Colin was pretty disappointed with the way that came across. It didn't look great after a big loss like that,'' he said.
Grimes dismissed suggestions he and co-captain Jack Trengove were too young to be in leadership roles.
''It's been tough, but it's not just because Jack and I have a 'c' next to our name. It's been tough because we are none and eight.''