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Sydney booked a final qualifying showdown with the reigning premiers after holding onto a 14-point win over St Kilda on Sunday.
In the final home and away game of the season, the top eight fell apart as the Saints came within seven points at the end of last term.
But Will Hayward’s second goal in the final quarter saw the Swans finish 13.10 (88) to 11.8 (74) winners at Marvel Stadium.
Sydney’s victory ensures they stay in the top four, but they haven’t won by enough margin to skip the Demons and move into second place.
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QUARTER BY QUARTER MATCH REPORT
Saints youngster Max King has had a horror week after effectively costing his side a place in the final with his wayward 0.5 in the 15-point loss to Brisbane last weekend.
But he put his accuracy issues to bed in the opening seconds against Swans, netting a superb goal just 5 yards from the boundary.
“It’s a good way to get rid of the monkey,” said commentator Jonathan Brown.
But he was immediately confronted by an angry Tom McCartin after King brought down Paddy McCartin before the goal.
“You saw that Tom’s first concern was for Paddy,” Dwayne Russell said.
“He went to his brother (who was injured) and didn’t match King.”
Jack Higgins had the chance to give Saints the best possible start when he scored from just 20m directly ahead. But remarkably, he missed his set piece.
“Can you believe after they missed so many chances last week to win a game,” lamented Russell.
“Shocking kicking action,” Brown added.
“He got too close to the man on target. I just stabbed him.
And the Swans made them pay with James Rowbottom at the end of a brief work stoppage.
King scored his second goal when the Saints got a clearance and the ball came in the back.
“King with the lucky rebound and this might be his lucky day,” Russell said.
“I think that quick kick from the stoppage really opens it up,” Jordan Lewis added.
“If you can clear that congestion, both sides seem to have really open forward lines.”
A costly 50m penalty against Swan Justin McInerney saw Ben Long regain the Saints lead and left coach John Longmire less than impressed.
But with less than 10 seconds remaining in the term, Chad Warner showed why he is considered one of the best young talents in the game.
The Swan hit the afterburners, leaving Saints skipper Jack Steele in his wake, scoring a goal from inside the center square on the run.
“He’s so exciting!” said Brown.
“His impact on the young Swans midfielder was profound.
“It’s the best goal you’ll ever see…come out of a save!”
“Usually players need one, two steps to stabilize – he was full throttle the whole time!” Lewis added.
The goal broke the harsh Marcus Windhager tag that had been applied to Warner in the first term, limiting him to just five touches.
The Swans tried to retire in the second term, with goals for Errol Gulden and Tom Papley.
But on the other end, King continued his brilliant day.
He had his third for the game when Jack Sinclair found space to sink down the wing.
Tom McCartin was penalized for the catch and King made no mistake with his boundary slam.
“It’s a tough shot for anyone, let alone someone with demons,” Russell said.
Sam Reid missed a one-goal giveaway when Saints defenders fell on him, but that mattered little as the Swans advanced.
Lance Franklin scored a goal before adding his first goal of the night to open a 29-point lead.
The Saints were just inaccurate with their skills and unruly in the second term.
Jack Sinclair made an excellent chase tackle on Isaac Heeney, winning the decision to hold the ball. But then he opted to bury the swan in the turf and poked the back of his head repeatedly, with the free kick then reversed.
“There’s not much to it, but why do it?” Lewis said.
King kept his team with his fourth goal in the first half, but at the main break Sydney led by 20 points.
Despite closing in on a top-two spot, the Swans had a big injury problem with Tom Papley being replaced with a concussion.
Papey had collided with teammate Franklin at the end of the second term.
Under AFL concussion protocols, Papley will be sidelined for a mandatory 12 days.
Windhager broke the deadlock from nearly 10 minutes into the third term to give Saints some hope of being upset, but a mix of poor decisions and bad turnovers cost St Kilda two quick goals.
Isaac Heeney was allowed to stay on the edge of the goal in the pocket as the Saints defense kept the ball alive instead of rushing it.
“(Callum) Wilkie suspended without bodily contact. Good sides with great attention to detail, this ball is 10 rows back through the post. Then the other options don’t present themselves,” Lewis lamented.
Franklin went on to top just two goals from Barry Hall as Sydney’s third all-time goalscorer with his 50th goal of the year.
It’s the 13th time he’s scored 50 goals in his 17-year career.
But the Swans’ third-term high quickly turned sour when Nick Blakey was helped from the ground after being crushed in a big tagging contest.
Blakey was left lying on the grass bleeding before being taken for a concussion test.
Luckily, he was able to get back into the game last term.
A late goal from Jack Higgins with two seconds remaining gave the Saints some hope heading into the final term 23 points behind.
Saints skipper Jack Steele added to the ‘anxiety’ of Swans fans when he reduced the margin to 19 points at the start of last season.
King kicked his fifth – from a regulation set shot 35m directly in front, and Tim Membery brought his team on seven moments later.
“St Kilda absolutely crush them in the central rebound,” Lewis said.
“It was a clinic in there.
“That’s all the momentum.”
When Dougal Howard attempted to bluff the referee by claiming he had a punch on Will Hayward’s snap, the score review was overturned.
Replays showed Howard had an airswing and the Swans were back to a 14-point lead.
“You can never trust a defender,” laughed commentator Anthony Hudson.
“He missed it by half a meter!” Lewis added.
Another review of the scores at the other end of the field showed that Dane Rampe had not gotten his hands on Dan Butler’s snap.
Butler had capitalized on a “dangerous” kick that failed to materialize for the Swans.
But Hayward shut the door on any potential Saints fightback and a top-four finish from the Dockers, with a brilliant snap to seal the 14-point victory.
3. SWANS BUTCHER TWO-SEAT TOP
The Swans could have won a qualifying final at home in week one had they beaten St Kilda in the final home and away game of the season.
Sydney opened up a 29-point lead in the latter stages of the third term and looks set to really push for that second spot on the table.
But a Jack Higgins goal in the dying seconds of the third term made the equation a bit more difficult: scoring seven goals and keeping the Saints to just two last term.
The Saints had other ideas as skipper Jack Steele converted from the border before Max King and Tim Membery both converted directly ahead – something they were unable to do against the Lions on last weekend when their season started.
Dan Butler brought the Saints within seven points and jeopardized fourth-place Sydney.
But Will Hayward scored two goals in the final quarter to ensure the Swans remained in the top four.
But they lost the chance to host a home final in week one and will now travel to the MCG to face Melbourne.
2. ALARMING INJURY CONCERN GIVEN A STRICT RULE
Tom Papeley has been Sydney’s most dangerous small forward this season and has made his career by stepping in at big times.
But he could completely miss the first final depending on the AFL schedule.
Papey was injured in a friendly firefight with teammate Lance Franklin.
Papley’s head hit Franklin’s shoulder as the pair were both competing for footy, and he was later ruled out of the rest of the match with a concussion.
But under the AFL’s mandatory concussion protocols, Papley must now be sidelined for 12 days.
If the Swans draw the first final of the weekend – which will be played on Thursday night – Papley will one day miss being able to get dressed.
“This misfortune of playing on Sunday in the final round,” lamented commentator Dwayne Russell.
Fox Footy’s Jonathan Brown said he had no doubt the Swans would go to the AFL to appeal for a game on Friday instead.
“There will be a bit of lobbying from the Sydney Football Club to the AFL saying, ‘Don’t play us on Thursday night,'” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for him, he’s obviously a great player in this competition and very dangerous for Sydney.
“There will be a final on Thursday night, so they will definitely be affected by that.”
1. YOUNG GUN SHOWS “JUDD-LIKE” STRENGTH
Sydney’s game plan was simple against the Saints – bring forwards into action, win the footy and beat the opposition on the push forward.
And that style of play has paid off with more than half of their goals coming from turnovers or competition.
Best of the lot was Chad Warner’s long-range bomb after he broke free from the stoppage and absolutely torched Saints skipper Jack Steele.
Warner ran from inside the central square to score his first goal of the day in the first term.
“What a star this man is,” said Fox Footy’s Jonathan Brown.
“If you can get a midfielder who can rush up front from a save, almost like Chris Judd in his prime, rush up front, it just opens up the 50 for you to kick foot to your attacker.”
Brown said the Swans like to open up space by going high.
“They like to bring their forwards to a stop. They overwhelm the contest and when they get it going, they go for the races.
“St Kilda defenders have to be careful not to get sucked too high by Sydney forwards.
“They are exceptional on the turnover. They bring the ball back to the center of the field.
“They sweat on the opposition and if you make a mistake they punish you.
“They move the ball so well – they don’t miss any handball.”
Jordan Lewis said the Swans mids showed a “pattern” in their style.
Brown said if the Swans had been impressive, St Kilda could have been closer to the scoreboard had it not been for their skill mistakes.
“The difference comes from the execution. St Kilda ran out of polish,” he lamented.
“(The St Kilda game) looked really sexy and they just missed the last kick,” added Eddie Betts.