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Gutsy Eagles see off Saints

An undermanned West Coast Eagles have seen enough a stern challenge from St Kilda, keeping their top four hopes alive with a 15 point win at the Gabba on Thursday night.

West Coast headed in to the game without eight of it’s best 22 due to injury and lost stand in skipper Jeremy McGovern before half time due to a hamstring injury but prevailed 9.11 (65) to 6.14 (50) in what looms as a crucial result for both clubs seasons.

The Saints headed in as warm favourites with Adam Simpson’s men without stars Dom Sheed, Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey, Jack Redden and Mark Hutchings, starting the better with the first five scoring shots of the match for a return of 2.3.

Paddy Ryder landed an early blow in his battle with Nic Naitanui with the game’s first major, before Tim Membrey sailed one through from 50 to put early scoreboard pressure on the Eagles.

Jack Darling and Liam Ryan returned serve for West Coast but the Saints had the game on their terms in the opening salvos, before the controversial ARC system reared it’s ugly head again late in the term.

A Jack Lonie snap landed at the top of the goal square, appearing to brush the pinky finger of team mate Tim Membrey before bouncing through for a goal.

After several inconclusive replays the umpire awarded a goal, helping St Kilda to a ten point quarter time lead.

The Eagles responded in the second term as Oscar Allen marked and converted from close range but not before another score review, this time confirming a mark to the young forward.

Darling was providing a presence in attack as he claimed a contested mark and slotted his second, Andrew Gaff also hitting the scoreboard as West Coast claimed the lead for the first time in the match.

It should have been a greater lead at the break with Josh Kennedy and Tim Kelly missing simple opportunities, but in slippery conditions the Eagles had made a potentially decisive break with a 13 point lead at the half.

The Eagles lost talisman McGovern for the match with a high hamstring strain sustained when lunging to spoil opponent Membrey just before half time, the four time All-Australian likely to face a race against time to be fit for finals.

The third term became a slog with rain arriving, neither team kicking a goal but St Kilda having field position, only to kick four behinds to the Eagles three.

The Saints had gone the best part of an hour of game time without a goal come the start of the final term, but then kicked two in three minutes to start the last as Seb Ross and Dan Butler majors drew scores level.

Rowan Marshall snapped accurately from the top of the square to put St Kilda in front, the Eagles looking tired and off the pace coming off a four-day break and playing their fifth game in 19 days.

With their season on the line West Coast found another gear, Josh Kennedy converting a tough set shot from 45 metres after finding rare space against tight checking defender Dougal Howard, before Tim Kelly kicked a superb running goal to return the lead to the team in blue and gold.

Oscar Allen won a questionable free kick at the top of the goal square to give his side a nine point advantage, the Eagles defence superb late in the piece to repel several Saints forward bursts.

Tom Cole kicked a goal on the siren to seal a memorable 15 point triumph, keeping themselves in touch with fourth placed Richmond ahead of the Tigers clash with third placed Geelong tomorrow night.

Kelly played his best game in an Eagles jumper with 30 disposals and nine clearances, Andrew Gaff with 33 disposals in playing 100% game time in a superb gut busting performance, while Nic Naitanui lifted late with a telling final term as he finished with 18 disposals, 33 hitouts and 9 clearances.

St Kilda will rue a missed opportunity against a weakened Eagles side having led in the last term, Jack Steele one of his side’s best with 26 disposals while Hunter Clark (24) and Jack Sinclair (19) also had impactful games.

Eagles coach Adam Simpson hailed the win as one of his finest as coach post match.

“It was one of our best wins for the club in my time,” Simpson said.

“It was a really brave effort. It would have been, hopefully, a good game to watch.

“I think it was our youngest side for I don’t know how many years. We were missing some players and the Saints threw everything at us as well.

“The guys just played their role and played with real spirit. We said that coming up here the second time that as long as we play with energy and spirit we’ll be proud of them.

“To get that win tonight, it was a good feeling in the rooms.”

West Coast will round out the home and away season with a match against North Melbourne next Thursday night, while St Kilda will have a must win game against Greater Western Sydney Friday week.

IMAGE: Fox Sports.

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