Melbourne has put a little bit of breathing space between fourth place and the chasing pack with a hard-fought win over an injury-ravaged St Kilda.
It might prove to be a costly night for the Saints, who lost spearhead Max King just 20 seconds into the game after re-injuring the shoulder that kept him out for the first half of the season. Adding to the pain, Seb Ross (hamstring) and Zaine Cordy (concussion) were also out of the game before half-time.
With just two healthy players on the bench for the second half, the Saints were spirited, but ultimately fell to Melbourne 12.7 (79) to 8.10 (58) under the roof of Marvel Stadium.
May expertly patrolled the Demons' defence, registering 13 intercepts and 12 marks, quashing the Saints' attempts in the air up forward. At the other end of the ground, Christian Petracca's concerns in front of goal appeared to be in the rearview mirror as he kicked four goals from 20 disposals.
After conceding the opening goal, St Kilda controlled the first quarter, refusing Melbourne any exit out of defence and peppering the goals. By the main break, the home side was plus-seven for both inside 50s and tackles inside 50 but it simply couldn't make it count, kicking just three goals from eight scoring shots for the term.
SAINTS MATCH CENTRE: View all news, stats and videos from Round 17
Conversely, after plenty of discussion around Melbourne's conversion during the week, the Demons were able to make their few forward entries count, with five straight goals from 10 inside 50s.
Ed Langdon (21 disposals, one goal) and Jack Viney (25 disposals, six tackles) set the tone for Melbourne, while Jake Melksham (two goals) played an effective role on the in-form Callum Wilkie.
St Kilda's early forward pressure was impressive, unsettling a typically calm and composed Melbourne defence for long stretches, resulting in some uncharacteristic turnovers from the likes of Trent Rivers and Jake Bowey.
Once the Demons settled into the game, however, the Saints had a hard time generating genuine scoring opportunities.
The Saints overused the ball, inviting pressure and often turning the ball over at inopportune moments.
Going forward the Saints struggled to achieve effective deep entries. Often caught marking the footy around the 50m arc, they looked to hit up the top of the goalsquare, but the likes of Harry Petty and May were ready and waiting to compete in the air.
With the knowledge that St Kilda was limited on the bench, the Demons moved the ball with speed, trying to exploit the tired legs of their opposition.
Despite the challenges, Jack Sinclair continued a strong season with a game-high 33 disposals and 620 metres gained.
St Kilda captain Jack Steele willed his team on in his 150th game, laying 12 tackles, winning 31 disposals and kicking a goal. Meanwhile, defender Jimmy Webster played a self-sacrificing role, shutting Kysaiah Pickett out of the game and forcing Demons coach Simon Goodwin to move him into the midfield for much of the second half.
Carnage for the Saints
Before the siren for half-time had even rung, the Saints were down to two healthy rotations on the bench. Within the opening minute, Max King was subbed off with a left shoulder concern – the same shoulder that kept him on the sidelines until round 10. Not long afterward, stalwart Seb Ross was benched with a right hamstring complaint, and by the second quarter, recalled forward Zaine Cordy had his jacket on, ruled out with concussion.
Billings back, 350 days later
In his first game since round 19 last year, Jack Billings made his return from a fractured leg. As the Demons were running away with the game in the third quarter, Billings worked hard into attack, finding space to himself and – unlike many of his teammates – calmly went back and kicked a settling goal for the Saints. It resulted in a shift of momentum for his side, with Cooper Sharman kicking another in quick succession and narrowing the margin to single digits.
It was a frustrating start in front of goal for young Saint Mattaes Phillipou, who kicked two unique behinds in the opening quarter. First lining up for a set shot about 35m from the goal line, directly in front, it didn't quite come off the boot as sweetly as he'd have liked. Despite the goal umpire signalling a goal, Jake Lever and the Demons were adamant it was touched off the boot, and while the players insisted on setting up for a kick-in, it took nearly a full minute for the review to reverse the call and signal a behind. Later in the term Phillipou snapped around the body, only to have the ball bounce off the top of the goalpost. Two almost majors for the Saint.
ST KILDA 3.5 4.7 6.8 8.10 (58)
MELBOURNE 5.0 7.2 9.5 12.7 (79)
St Kilda: Owens 2, Gresham 2, Steele, Wood, Billings, Sharman
Melbourne: Petracca 4, Melksham 2, Sparrow 2, Neal-Bullen, Hunter, Brown, Langdon
St Kilda: Steele, Sinclair, Marshall, Wanganeen-Milera,
Melbourne: Langdon, Neal-Bullen, May, Sparrow, Viney
St Kilda: Ross (hamstring), King (shoulder), Cordy (concussion)
St Kilda: Ryan Byrnes (replaced Max King in the first quarter)
Melbourne: Joel Smith (replaced Harrison Petty in the final quarter)
30,749 at Marvel Stadium