SALE tightened its grip on top spot on the Gippsland League football ladder after surviving a challenge from local rival Maffra on Sunday.
The Magpies appeared to be coasting to victory after leading by 33 points at quarter-time, only for the Eagles to get within four points at half-time.
The Magpies could have killed the match off in the third term, but were let down by inaccurate kicking for goal. They did get it right in the final term, winning 16.15 (111) to 12.11 (83).
The defeat, coupled with wins for Traralgon and Wonthaggi, pushed Maffra from third place to fifth on the ladder. The Eagles are in no danger of missing the finals as they are three wins ahead of Leongatha and Bairnsdale, who are sixth and seventh respectively, with two rounds to play.
Josh Dunkley, Jacob Schuback and Luke Collins all made an impact in the midfield for the Magpies.
Lachie Todd marked Adrian Burgiel well.
Captain-coach Matt Ferguson, who booted four goals and Justin Mitrevski were dangerous in attack in their return to the side, while Justin McLay contributed three goals.
Darren Sheen kicked four goals for Maffra, while Daniel Bedggood worked hard to ignite the Eagles’ charge, booting three goals.
Brent Connelly worked hard in the ruck, Hayden Burgiel, Alex Coleman and Sam Tudor had good passages of play, while James Huts did well in defence on Mitch Davis.
Both teams welcomed back key players for the blockbuster at Sale Oval with the Magpies welcoming back Ferguson, Schuback, Collins, Mitrevski, Ryan Pendlebury and Jake Thomas, while Maffra included coach Hayden Burgiel.
In ideal conditions for footy, Sale dominated the first term, booting seven goals to one.
The Magpies’ midfield and defence were starving the Eagles’ forwards of scoring opportunities as the visitors found it hard to get the ball out of their back line.
The Magpies were moving the ball quickly, giving their opponents little look in. It took the Eagles 15 minutes to post a score, by then they were already 35 points down.
Trailing by 33 points at the first change, the Eagles were harder at the ball and started to play more directly in the second term, and it paid dividends.
Darren Sheen finished off some of the Eagles’ good work, booting two goals, while Bedggood stole the ball on the wing and booted a goal to cut the margin to 16 points.
The Magpies did stretch the gap back out to 22 points, but goals from Adrian Burgiel, Josh Davis and Bedggood saw the Eagles head into half-time trailing by just four points.
In what could have been a turning point in the match, Ferguson took some time to get up after being tackled in front of the Sale goal shortly before half-time. While Ferguson was on the ground, the stretcher came on to the field, and despite being able to get up, the rules stated he had to stay on the sidelines for 20 minutes.
Without Ferguson for much of the third term, Pendlebury was moved into attack.
The Magpies missed many chances in the third term despite having the majority of possession.
It took 11 minutes for the home side to kick a goal, after Josh Dunkley took a terrific pack mark.
Bedggood tried to keep his side in the contest, setting up a goal for Ryan Foat and booting one himself to cut the margin back to four points.
A goal from Kane Martin on a tight angle gave Sale an 11-point lead at the final change.
McLay gave the Magpies further breathing space with a goal in the first minute of the fourth term, but the Eagles replied with a major from Alex Coleman.
The sides found it difficult to score for the next 10 minutes before a McLay kick towards goal took a wicked bounce and went between the big sticks.
Goals from Collins and Mitch Davis sealed the 28-point win.
A goal in the final minute gave Sale a two-point win the reserves. The Eagles led by 20 points midway through the final term before the Magpies’ comeback.
The win keeps Sale safety in third place, while the Eagles are a win and percentage outside the top five.
Sale scored comfortable wins in the under 18 and 16 matches. The Magpies are in second place on both ladders, while the Eagles are a win and a considerable amount of percentage outside the under 16 top five.
Top five finalised
WONTHAGGI ended Bairnsdale’s finals hopes with a 16-point victory.
The Power only led by one point at the final change before booting four goals to two to win 11.13 (79) to 10.3 (63).
Matthew Coyne was solid in defence for Wonthaggi, while Adam Cook kicked four goals in his return to the side.
James Gibbs returned from injury to kick seven of the Redlegs’ 10 goals.
Gulls win big
WARRAGUL claimed its biggest win for seven years, defeating Moe by 101 points.
The Gulls were never troubled by the Lions, conceding only one goal in the first half and kicking 9.11. The Gulls went on to win 17.21 (123) to 3.4 (22).
Mark Collison and Clinton Rowe were the Gulls’ best. Collison, James Davison and Matt Gray kicked three goals each.
TRARALGON scored its biggest ever win against Drouin, 21.19 (145) to 2.4 (16).
The boost in percentage will help the Maroons’ chase for third spot on the ladder.
Jaime Aitken and Leigh Cummins were ruthless in defence, while Tim Aitken and Jackson Hall, with five and four goals respectively, enjoyed the supply from their midfield.
Tigers tame Parrots
A FIFTEEN-goal second half gave Morwell a huge victory over Leongatha, ending the Parrots’ slim finals chances.
Leading by a goal at quarter-time, the Tigers began their move in the second term, booting four unanswered goals. But the home side lifted in the second half, booting 15 goals to six to win 21.13 (139) to 7.8 (50).
The Tigers’ best was Mannon Johnston, who kicked five goals and created goal scoring opportunities for teammates.
Joel Soutar and Michael Ross also made contributions.
Pat Contin was the Parrots’ best, with Cade Maskell kicking four goals.