GIPPSLAND Power drew with the Northern Knights in TAC Cup football on Saturday at Morwell.
Scores were level 10.6 (66) apiece when the full-time siren sounded.
AFL Academy members, Caleb Serong and Sam Flanders, missed the game due to AFL Academy obligations in New Zealand, while captain Xavier Duursma and Austin Hodge were unavailable because of minor injuries suffered in the Victoria Country trial games the previous weekend.
Meeniyan youngster, Brett Thorson was a late absentee, again because of injury, so several opportunities were created for some of the squad to step up and lay claim for their place in the starting 18.
Coming into the team were experienced players Tyrone Hayes and Bailey Patterson, newcomer Alexander Young and another prominent bottom-ager, Leongatha’s Mitch Bentvelzen.
After a tight opening stanza, the Knights kicked the first goal but the Power then upped the ante to create scoring opportunities which were then squandered due to very “ordinary” finishing skills or decision making. To add insult to this unnecessary injury, the Knights showed how it was done with another goal almost against the run of play. It took some extraordinary individual skills, vision and coolness by Irving Mosquito to create the Power’s only goal for the quarter and, vitally, reduce the margin to four points at the first change.
Coach Leigh Brown and the zone coaches had some critical statistics to use during the break and the most obvious was the number of forward-fifty entries that were wasted.
One goal from 15 entries is a dismal return for a lot of effort further up the ground when one in four is considered the bare minimum for a winning side. On a positive note, the Power had laid 30-plus tackles to keep the Knights under intense pressure in contests all over the ground and, vitally, limit the scoreboard damage after such poor forward conversion.
Early in the next term, the Power again wasted scoring opportunities and then watched as the Knights scored another with seeming ease.
The Power was going sideways rather than quick, long and direct, the system that had been so productive against the Pioneers. The only time they did go direct, Mason McGannon found Josh Smith and he kicked truly.
To make the inefficiency problem even worse, when they did go quick, long and direct other than this one time, its skills were so poor that unnecessary turnovers “gifted” the Knights with two more goals.
By the long break, the Knights led by 19 points and had the Power on the back foot. As well as the poor skills, the Power handballed far too often and once again gave the Knights chances to paly rebound football. The only saving grace were another 30-plus tackles keeping the scoreboard damage to a reasonable level.
The wastefulness in attack continued early in the quarter but, finally they began to be more direct. Riley Baldi set the tone after winning a free kick and then some excellent forward pressure by Matt McGannon resulted in a goal that seemed to inspire teammates.
Once again Mosquito used his unique brand of football magic to use his pace and skills to score the sides’ third for the term.
Just when it appeared as if the Power were finally back on track, the Knights were gifted with two far too easy goals as a result of unnecessary turnovers that put the defence under too much pressure.
Yet again it was the magic of Mosquito that restored credibility when a stunning intercept mark and goal reduced the difference on the scoreboard to five points by the last change.
From the opening bounce of the final quarter, the Knights regained the initiative and put the pressure back on the Power. The home side responded immediately through Baldi, while Bailey Beck and Hayes goaled on the run.
Fraser Phillips and Irving Mosquito combined to allow Josh Smith to kick his second goal.
The Power was again in attack but indecision and poor skills meant chances were wasted.
Mason McGannon went quick, long and direct, and former Stingray Alexander Young kicked a goal to give the Power the lead for the first time in the match.
Once again the Power gifted the Knights with two goals as a result of terrible ball use, with the visitors regaining the lead with only a couple of minutes to go.
In the final seconds, Kyle Reid and Young combined for Mosquito, who did it again with a fine contested mark and goal from an acute angle.
The final result of a draw was really “larceny by stealth” by the Power, when it had only played its best football for about 25 per cent of the match.
Gippsland had 17 more forward 50 entries than the Knights, but was wasteful of them, in the first half especially. Things got better in the second half when the Power kicked eight goals from 28 entries.
If it wasn’t for the individual and team oriented skills of Mosquito, Gippsland couldn’t have drawn this match. Irving kicked four goals, and used his pace, aerial ability, competitiveness in tight situations and evasiveness to keep the side in the match, allowing Power to secure what appeared to be an unlikely result.
Defender Reid led his fellow back men by example, seeing him defeat the Knights’ best tall forwards with disciplined play.
Ryan Sparkes continued his progress in the TAC Cup with another exceptional display as a defender, backing himself to play two vital roles for the fourth time this year.
In his fourth game, Jake Van Der Pligt recorded almost 50 possessions, seven marks and seven tackles, but did most of it under intense pressure.
Gippsland Power will play the Eastern Ranges this Saturday at Healesville.