TRIPLE premiership coach Mick Malthouse says embattled Melbourne needs a ''love-fest'' to get its season going, suggesting his former assistant Mark Neeld erase all signs of negativity and focus on what has gone right during his ''horrendous'' initiation to coaching.
Malthouse, who acts as a mentor to Neeld, having nurtured his coaching career at Collingwood, fears the first-year coach could become consumed by the team's mounting deficiencies, and risks losing what little ground the Demons have made in the first eight rounds.
Melbourne plunged further into free-fall on Saturday night, recording its lowest score since round five, 2009, in a disastrous 101-point loss to Sydney at the SCG, 21.12 (138) to 5.7 (37), that left the bottom-placed team still winless.
The 0-8 start has prompted Malthouse and Melbourne's director of sports performance, Neil Craig, to rate Neeld's first eight weeks in the senior job as the toughest any AFL coach as endured.
It has also left senior commentators such as Matthew Lloyd ''confused'' about the game plan Neeld is trying to implement, and at a loss as to where the Demons can improve for the rest of the season.
''The way I would handle this would be to make it a love-fest,'' said Malthouse, who sits third on the all-time list for wins as a coach.
''You don't point the fingers any more. You cannot say, 'Don't do this or don't do that. You're doing this wrong or doing that wrong','' he said on 3AW yesterday.
''This has got to become, 'I'm with you. We're getting smashed but I'm with you'.
''Let's ask ourselves, 'What do we love about the game?' Let's start to build it up.
''Do something different but don't keep focusing on your deficiencies, they will just drag you down. If you keep attacking your deficiencies, any strong points disappear automatically.''
There was more bad news for the Demons yesterday, with troubled forward Liam Jurrah set for another extended stint on the sidelines - this time because of a leg injury.
Melbourne is preparing for a daunting next three weeks with games against Carlton, Essendon and Collingwood at the MCG before a bye and then a clash with Greater Western Sydney.
In an interview on Channel Nine's Sunday Footy Show aired yesterday, Craig admitted the club was bracing itself for the scrutiny it will face should Melbourne still be winless after 11 rounds.
But the former Adelaide coach said the season had not been a complete write-off, pointing to the emergence of young gun Jeremy Howe and the solid form of midfielder Nathan Jones. Howe, who took a mark-of-the-year contender against Sydney, has been one of the few shining lights for the Demons, lifting his output this year by averaging 15 possessions (up from 12 in 2011), while Jones has also won praise for his work ethic, averaging 22 disposals and five clearances, two more than last season.
The decision to appoint Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes as co-captains has been heavily criticised already this year, but Craig said the inexperienced pair were ''up for the challenge'' and both ''oozed'' leadership qualities.
He also gave a strong endorsement of Neeld: ''What I can say to the Melbourne supporters is that you've got a very strong person who knows exactly where he is going and is open-minded, but very clear about what he wants.''
Malthouse said the club's senior players were letting Neeld down - naming midfielders Colin Sylvia, Brent Moloney and ruckman Mark Jamar.
''I know Brad Green has just come back into the side, but Moloney and Sylvia, they are players that really need to stand up along with Jamar, and I'm not 100 per cent sure they are,'' Malthouse said on Channel Seven's AFL Gameday.
''And it's leaving a lot to the younger players.''
Malthouse said he did not know how much time Melbourne would give Neeld to teach the players without that development turning into wins. But he shot down criticism that Neeld was confusing the players by tweaking the game plan.
''When you start to lose games, you start to work out that sometimes the game structure doesn't suit the team, and you might have to keep throwing it around,'' Malthouse said on 3AW.