Collingwood will have to find alternative avenues to goal again this week after small forward Jamie Elliott was all but ruled out of Sunday's critical clash with Essendon by Magpie coach Nathan Buckley.
But in better news, Buckley confirmed that veteran Nick Maxwell, who hasn't played since straining a calf in round 11, would return to the senior line-up after only one game back in the VFL, while Luke Ball, who also missed last week with a calf injury, was a good chance to return as well.
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Elliott, who with 30 goals from 14 games is behind only key forward Travis Cloke in the Magpies' goalkicking, missed Collingwood's narrow loss to Gold Coast last week after straining a hamstring against Carlton. He proved a costly absentee as the Pies managed only 10 goals against the Suns, and only two in two full quarters.
"I don't think Jamie will get up," Buckley said on Wednesday at the Westpac Centre. "Bally should be right". Asked if Maxwell would definitely come back into a defence which has begun to struggle under the weight of opposition pressure, Buckley was unequivocal. "Yep," he declared.
But Buckley believes the names missing or those returning to the Pies’ best 22 are secondary to his side regaining its defensive pressure and appetite for the contest, which has slipped during its run of three losses from the past four games.
“We were playing better footy before the bye with similar names, so it’s got nothing to do with personnel, it’s got a lot to do with how we execute and the way we play, and we’ve got to do it better starting Sunday,” he said.
Buckley said while Collingwood’s forward set-up has come under much scrutiny, the Pies’ poor skills of late had been pivotal to the lack of scoreboard pressure.
“We provided plenty of opportunities for ourselves [against Gold Coast] as we have throughout the whole year. There’s a focus on our forward line, and we could definitely score heavier, but it’s not about who, it’s about how we go about it and how we move the ball.
“Our disposal inside 50 was really poor last week, and we’ve worked on that and discussed it. We need to have our forwards working hard in front of the ball, but we need to use the ball better by hand and by foot, and that’s how we’re going to score.”
Buckley said the failure of his midfielders to hit the scoreboard as hard in 2014 was also a reflection on poor defensive pressure all over the ground. The core of Collingwood’s midfield has collectively kicked 50 goals in the Magpies’ nine wins, but in six losses, has managed just 16. The Pies are also averaging fewer individual goalkickers per match than all bar a handful of teams.
“Our defence was good between rounds two and seven, but hasn’t been as good consistently since then,” he said.
“And when you’re not defending as well, the ball spends more time in your back half. We haven’t controlled field position as much because our defence hasn’t been as effective, and we’ve turned the ball over when we shouldn’t.”
The Magpie coach said Ben Reid, who hurt a calf again in his comeback in the VFL last week, would need to train to be considered for reserves selection, and that Patrick Karnezis, yet to play a senior game for the Magpies after transferring from Brisbane, faced more time in the VFL to build his match fitness after being restricted pre-season by a groin injury, then injuring a hamstring when he was on the verge of senior selection.
"Ben is still pretty sore in the calf from the cork," Buckley said of the important Magpie swingman, who has injured his calf three times this year and his thigh twice, and is still to play a senior game. "He can't take a trick. He planned to get through half a game [last week] and he got through about one-and-three-quarter quarters. He’ll need to train to prove his fitness to play this week at any level.
"Patrick had his second game back. He's building, and he hit the scoreboard at the weekend, which is good, but he understands he's got to keep putting those consistent performances in at VFL level and continue working on his fitness to have the ability to run out four quarters at senior level."