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Small forwards inspire big win

St Kilda's small forwards dominated in their win over Carlton on Monday night, our footy experts review the fiery encounter.

PT4M43S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-1yo68 620 349

ST KILDA 5.3 11.5 16.6 19.8 (122)
CARLTON
5.1 8.6 12.10 14.14 (98)
GOALS St Kilda: Milne 4, Milera 3, Saad 2, Armitage 2, Stanley 2, Goddard, Ray, Koschitzke, Steven, Hayes, Riewoldt. Carlton: Ellard 3, Walker 2, Betts 2, Gibbs, Judd, Scotland, Waite, Simpson, Kreuzer, Robinson.
BEST St Kilda: Ray, Milera, Jones, Milne, Steven, Montagna, Saad, Goddard, Dempster, Blake. Carlton: Judd, Scotland, Kreuzer, Ellard, Curnow.
UMPIRES: Pannell, McBurney, Leppard.
CROWD: 38,823 at Etihad Stadium.

WHEN it was a good side, playing and not quite winning grand finals, St Kilda never looked this good. The Saints were effective but they never looked quite like this. They were many things then, but exciting was not one of them. Last night St Kilda was exciting.

For years as the Saints played in those finals, they had a forward line of two stars, Nick Riewoldt and Stephen Milne, and others around them for pressure and role playing. It was never enough.

What he Saad: Saints players celebrate a goal with rookie Ahmed Saad, centre, in the win over Carlton last night.

What he Saad: Saints players celebrate a goal with rookie Ahmed Saad, centre, in the win over Carlton last night. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Last night St Kilda emphatically unearthed two more players, Terry Milera and Ahmed Saad, players who offered as much bite as Milne forward, and more pace than the Saints have known around the ball in the middle of the ground.

When it was a good side, St Kilda was also an exceptionally disciplined one. It still is.

Undermanned through injury, the Saints crafted a win last night by outsmarting Carlton, then outplaying it. It was a game as much about clever design as determined execution.

Coach Scott Watters showcased last night a game that was either extremely well tailored to defeat Carlton or the first and best sign of a side understanding how the new coach wants it to play. Whichever, it was a very well conceived and delivered.

The Saints were playing in part from the same play book from which Essendon read and delivered when closing Carlton down, denied them space, locked up their run and broke extremely hard in the other direction forward. There is a growing feeling among clubs that Carlton lacks a general menace and aggression that good sides have.

It may not be fair but perception is reality and clubs are playing to it.

The Saints came determined to play an unsociable game, an approach that was an extension of the manic desire to win the ball at each contest and keep the game in tight. It was a game suited to the tighter confines of the narrow Etihad Stadium.

Critically, to win the game St Kilda had to win the contests, not only those of ball in dispute but of individual against individual. Clint Jones shut Marc Murphy down and with him much of the pressure that is taken from Chris Judd's shoulders. Jack Steven was almost as influential as the Blues captain, but faded late in the match.

Without Sam Fisher behind the ball for the Saints, Jason Blake picked up Jarrad Waite and played as well as he has in recent years to quieten the full-forward. The under-sized Tom Simpkin also had the better of Shaun Hampson.

Andrew Walker and Eddie Betts all night looked the most likely Blues forwards until David Ellard was subbed into the game.

The most remarkable difference in St Kilda last night was the speed. It was not surprising that the Saints could win the inside game but the outside game has been their Achilles heel. Last night they denied Carlton their outside game, but when asked to deliver outside the contest themselves the Saints displayed rare pace.

Seldom has St Kilda been accused of being quick but with Steven, Milera, Saad, Rhys Stanley and Farren Ray all spreading and harassing forward of the ball, the Carlton defence look flat in comparison.

At game's end there was no sense among the players of the jubilation of victory, of upending expectation. There was just sheer body-searing exhaustion.

It was a game that demanded everything to beat a better credentialed opponent, a game fine in design and exceptional in execution.

MONDAY, MONDAY

Monday night footy got a tick from the public, with a near full-house despite the wintry conditions to brave to get there. Once under the roof, the game was white hot, although the scoreboard clock appeared to be frozen for the whole first quarter, leaving everyone wondering.

FORWARD THINKING

This is a profoundly new St Kilda, replete with a cluster of dynamic small forwards. Terry Milera was the first to cause problems for Carlton, then Ahmed Saad kicked a candidate for goal of the year, trapping the ball, evading two Blues and drilling it from around his body. Finally veteran Stephen Milne jumped up, antagonising the Carlton players and supporters.

WET BLANKET

St Kilda played a frenetic style, running and spreading and rolling the dice. But one thing never changes: Clint Jones did a superb job, keeping the brilliant Blue Marc Murphy to just 17 disposals, one more than his opponent. - MARTIN BLAKE