Box Hill have fallen to consecutive defeats for the first time in 2017, beaten by a fired up Port Melbourne on Sunday.
The third placed Port went into the clash two games behind the second placed Hawks, knowing that their pursuit of a home qualifying final hinged squarely on beating the brown and gold and hoping that the Northern Blues can do the same next week.
It seemed fitting that the sun was out and the temperature in the mid-to-high teens as two finals bound, premiership aspirants squared off just a fortnight from Spring.
In a tight, contested and often testy affair, Box Hill controlled large periods of play but were made to rue an ultimately decisive combination of indiscipline and inaccuracy.
The Borough drew first blood via the boot of Robin Nahas just four minutes into the first term, with the veteran goal sneak getting out the back of the Box Hill zone and onto to loose ball, gathering and strolling into the open goal.
Thereafter, Port enjoyed the lion’s share of both possession and territory but struggled to find space and targets in an organised Hawks defence. Marshalled by skipper David Mirra, his deputy Max Warren and young guns Harry Morrison and Kurt Heatherley, the hosts’ last line held firm to repel and rebound.
Meanwhile, Box Hill probed and prodded the Port half-back line, but found the standalone outfits’ rearguard equal to their own.
Finally, however, some pressure forced a turnover high enough for the Hawks’ half-forwards to pounce.
On sixteen minutes it was Kade Stewart who took full advantage of an error, running to fifty and coolly converting on his right.
In a game light on for clean – or easy – transitions and opportunities, Port’s second of the day proved especially frustrating; not just because it came so quickly after Box Hill’s first, either.
In a confusing turn of events the visitors were awarded a free kick from which a close range snap for goal was smothered, only to be awarded a second kick in the ensuing hunt for the ball. The resulting shot would be converted, handing them back the lead.
With mere seconds remaining in the first term the umpires’ whistle would again provide the Borough the opportunity Box Hill’s structure denied them, when a melee in their right forward pocket gave them possession of the ball and, more tellingly, a fifty metre penalty that eliminated any angle or angst.
It was a frustrating end to a quarter in which both sides had applied themselves equally well, but been disproportionally rewarded for their efforts.
Chris Newman would’ve been happy with his side’s start to the second term, with a series of repeat forward fifty entries culminating in Kade Stewart snapping his – and the team’s – second of the day.
Collecting the ball in traffic he spun instinctively onto his left and hung a high, looping snap in the direction of goal. The goal umpire had a little work to do as he tracked it in the air, but was finally convinced it’d floated in-between the big sticks.
The joy was short-lived, however, when further ill-discipline gave the visitors yet another fifty metre penalty that again took them to within range of goal.
Dallas Willsmore would answer shortly after with a beautiful set shot from fifty, before the Borough restored their two-kick advantage on the back of yet another goal from a free kick.
Box Hill got on the front foot and enjoyed a period of sustained and near-relentless forward half pressure, but struggled to fashion any clean looks at goal. Port were doing well to choke up the middle of the field and create a contest both in the air and at ground level, depriving the hosts of the opportunities they craved.
Both Andrew Moore and Billy Murphy saw half chances sail wide as the visitors dug in against their own goal. They would weather the storm, taking minimal damage on the scoreboard to retain the bulk of their lead, and actually extend their advantage with two goals in as many minutes as the quarter neared time on.
It was a blow to the Hawks’ morale, as they’d been well on top but failed to make any meaningful headway; but despite the challenges the brown and gold didn’t drop their heads.
The returning Jono O’Rourke came alive late on, playing a key hand in a midfield transition that resulted in an Anthony Brolic goal, with Billy Murphy adding a major of his own following a clever close range snap to bring the Hawks within nine points at the long break.
Box Hill would have to get the win without lively small forward Sam Switkowski, who would take no further part in the match having felt his hamstring earlier in the half.
O’Rourke started the third term as he ended the second, though this time he was cast in the role of both creator and finisher.
With only three minutes played he took possession in traffic deep in attacking fifty, rode a tackle, found the space he needed and snapped brilliantly to bring his side within a kick.
Box Hill would do all the attacking thereafter, with Chris Jones, Teia Miles and Moore all seeing efforts swing the wrong side of the post to tie the scores.
But, as they’d managed all day, Port saw off the threat to find the goal they needed precisely when it was needed, spring-boarding from defence twice in quick succession to take a two-goal lead into three quarter time.
It was a frustrating quarter of terrific endeavour and wasted opportunity. The Hawks had been the better side, created the better chances, but turned for home further behind than they were at half time.
Oliver Hanrahan provided the perfect start to the final term, seeing his off-balance snap split the middle with barely a minute played to reign the Borough back within a goal.
Ten minutes of hard fought footy ensued in which it was difficult for either side to land a blow. With every possession under immense pressure and every contest a battle of three, four and five bodies, it would take something special to break the game open.
Sadly for the brown and gold it would be Borough who found their range the quickest. Lisle marked well and kicked a terrific goal, with a second following just minutes later.
Lachie Walker gave the Hawks a sniff with an important set shot finish on nineteen minutes, but the final ten minutes were played largely on Port’s terms. They would add a further two goals to seal the result and secure a potentially telling four points.
Box Hill 1.1 5.5 6.9 8.10 (58)
Port Melbourne 3.1 7.2 9.3 13.8 (86)
GOALS: Stewart 2, Willsmore, Brolic, Murphy, O’Rourke, Hanrahan, L Walker
DISPOSALS: Brolic 27, Mirra 26, Morrison 23, Heatherley 22, O’Sullivan 22, Whitecross 20
AFL Vic Development League
In earlier development action Box Hill continued their late-season resurgence with a stirring win over the top of the table Port Melbourne.
Challenged all day, Andrew Shakespeare’s charges produced a display of great promise and maturity to rise to challenge of their in form opponent and, in the process, secure a finals berth.
Will Hams made a successful return from a long injury lay-off, gathering 29 touches in an encouraging display, whilst Dale Hehir continued his good form with a match-high four goals.
Box Hill 2.3 6.6 9.8 12.9 (81)
Port Melbourne 1.3 4.5 6.9 8.11 (59)
GOALS: Hehir 4, Kilpatrick 2, Traynor, Cox, Adduci, Jacotine, Davies, Knoll