A pointed half-time address from Ross Lyon to not let the past nine months of work go to waste may have helped tip St Kilda over the line against West Coast, but digging into the reasons how and why the Saints got into the position they did has already begun.
It was untidy and unglamorous for extended periods as the Eagles - bouncing back from a 171-point trouncing last weekend - dictated proceedings in the first half, yet Sunday’s eight-point win has the Saints sitting in fifth position and just outside the top-four on percentage.
However Lyon is still wrapping his head around the contrast between his side’s best and worst in that two-hour window, which showed both glimpses of the club’s early-season form and far departures from its intended gamestyle.
“At half-time I spoke about wasting nine months of hard work, and I think that hit home,” Lyon said in his post-game press conference.
“I’m still trying to understand the lack of system and how we want to play between the first half and second, I still can’t get my head around it.
“I was the ‘disappointed father’ today. I don’t think I’ve raised my voice at them. Some players might say I have, but I think over the journey it wouldn’t be too many times.
“‘Cuddly Ross’ is still here, but I was flat. I just said you’ve got to dig yourselves out of it.
It was a “seesaw of emotions” for Lyon and the Saints at Optus Stadium on multiple fronts.
St Kilda conceded an “embarrassing” 42 marks in the second quarter to trail by 24 points at the main change, before outscoring the Eagles 16-6 for the rest of the game - aided by Lyon’s half-time pep - to escape eight-point victors.
Similarly, Seb Ross and Bradley Hill seemed to be done with respective knee injuries, but returned to the field shortly after the initial scares. Josh Battle was not so lucky after being concussed in the second quarter following a marking contest against West Coast’s Oscar Allen.
Lyon flagged on Friday his side had a strong focus on rekindling its best footy and early season form this weekend, but was left looking for answers as to how to regain it by full-time.
“It’s hard to explain really. We know what it (our best) looks like,” Lyon said.
“Second half against the Swans we dominated contest and ground position, did it for periods against Richmond, but we can have those (moments) where I don’t recognise what we’re trying to do.
“Somewhere there’s a disconnect and whether it’s mental or our training, we’re trying to get back to that.
“We were just playing straight-line footy, we didn’t shift the ball. (I said) we have to start shifting the ball, run harder to space and squeeze them up and make them defend.
“Our ball use, there’s aggressive and brave but there’s aggressive and stupid, and we probably sat there (in the latter) in the first half.
“We wanted to take the ball off them and not wait to be given the ball. That’s what our best footy looks like; first half we didn’t, second half we did.”
One positive from Sunday afternoon was the four-goal performance from Mitch Owens, whose terrific campaign has proven match-winning on multiple occasions for the Saints.
The 20-year-old is third on St Kilda’s goalkicking tally with 19 behind Jack Higgins (27) and Dan Butler (24), and still leads the club for contested marks (18).
Career-high 4 goals for Mitchito 🌟 pic.twitter.com/fInEUE4H7p— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 2, 2023
“In Melbourne he gets huge wraps,” Lyon said.
“He’s come off a little bit, I think that’s a little bit to do with an arduous season, but he attacks the ball and he’s a real competitor.
“We value him highly.”