The smiles of St Kilda fans will be turning ever-so-slightly upward following a strong 18-point win over Carlton in its first prime-time fixture in over two years.
Coming off the back of a five-day turnaround, Brett Ratten’s men pieced together a fast, flowing and damaging opening half – complete with a pair of goals to the returning Jarryn Geary – to keep the Blues to just two majors, before a resurgent Carlton came to play in the third.
While the Blues’ momentum looked like overflowing into the last, a Jack Billings steadier just before three-quarter time and a dominant showing from Rowan Marshall (19 disposals, 22 hit-outs) in the final term was enough to confirm the 8.7 (55) to 11.7 (73) result and pop the Saints into the top-four.
Jack Steele (23 disposals, nine tackles) was superb all evening, keeping Patrick Cripps to just five touches at the main change before the dual-All Australian got going in the second half, while Callum Wilkie was elite down back.
The mature-age recruit notched up 11 disposals and four intercepts by quarter-time, and was complemented with terrific displays from Ben Long (12 disposals, six intercepts) and Nick Coffield (20 disposals).
Geary played superbly in his new role as a defensive forward, winning the early duel on Sam Docherty and booting multiple majors for just the second time in his career.
The skipper finished the night with six touches, but made sure they all counted, contributing two of the Saints’ four opening quarter goals.
A contested clunk from Max King (two goals) got the ball rolling for the Saints, while the midfield – minus Zak Jones – fired on all cylinders to completely dominate in all facets.
The Saints were able to find ample space thanks to their pacey and high-pressure brand of football, finding themselves up 24 in the uncontested ball, plus 16 in marks and recording an impressive nine marks inside-50 by quarter-time.
Ratten’s men continued to dictate terms in the second, with Jade Gresham needing just 20 seconds to inflict more scoreboard damage as the margin began to extend in the Saints' favour.
Coffield’s continual efforts down in defence – whether it be a spoil to gift King’s second, a desperate tackle or an unrewarded, defensive play – continued to stand out, particularly as the red, white and black continued to find more space and capitalise off the Blues’ turnovers.
Dan Butler (two goals) hit the scoreboard as the Baggers’ panic began to set in moving out of defence, but a relapse in St Kilda’s pressure and hunt in the closing minutes of the quarter opened the door for the Carlton to creep back into the contest.
DANGER. DANGER. DANGER. DANGER.— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 2, 2020
BUTLER! BUTLER! BUTLER! BUTLER! pic.twitter.com/XBM5rltDyZ
Despite scoring just two goals before the main change, the Blues rolled up the sleeves to even up the contest, with three quick scores to Will Setterfield and Jack Martin threatening to sour the Saints’ prime-time return.
As Cripps’ influence began to be felt after swinging up forward, a sensational Mark of the Year contender from Long helped stabilise the defensive end and put a slight dampener on the Blues' run.
A Josh Battle kick after the siren would have given the Saints a handy buffer heading into the final charge, but his sprayed kick left the margin at 23 points.
With the first goal crucial in determining the momentum of the last quarter, Tim Membrey rose to the occasion with a long-range major, before Dean Kent put the result beyond doubt to register St Kilda’s third win of the year.
Marshall took the game by the scruff of the neck when the game hung in the balance, notching up eight disposals, four clearances, two inside-50s and seven hit-outs in the final term to mitigate the Blues' last-gasp attempt to pinch the win.
While Carlton put through three in the last, the damage from the opening half was enough of an advantage to get the Saints over the line.
A hamstring complaint from Dan Hannebery saw him sit out the game after half-time, with the extent of the injury yet to be determined.
As the fixture currently stands, St Kilda will return to Thursday prime-time against Geelong at Marvel Stadium, while Carlton will gain a 10-day turnaround before its clash with Sydney at the MCG.
CARLTON 1.1 2.4 5.6 8.7 (55)
ST KILDA 4.3 7.4 9.5 11.7 (73)
Carlton: Setterfield 2, Betts, Philp, Martin, Gibbons, Cripps, Newnes
St Kilda: Geary 2, King 2, Butler 2, Battle, Gresham, Billings, Membrey, Kent
Carlton: Cripps, Jones, Martin, Jones, Simpson, Curnow
St Kilda: Steele, Wilkie, Geary, Marshall, Coffield, Long, Ross
Carlton: Fisher (gastro) replaced in the selected side by Philp
St Kilda: Hannebery (hamstring)