Sometimes it’s easy to spot a potential slow start. For instance, you look at Essendon’s first three matches, see Geelong-Brisbane-Melbourne, and think ‘that’s going to be a struggle’.
Elsewhere, you see three of Fremantle’s first four matches in Perth, with a lone trip against Adelaide, and start forming the outline of a flying start.
Then there are instances like Port Adelaide. Round 1 against Brisbane is tough, but they’re followed with Adelaide Oval games against the Hawks and Crows.
Rather than recalibrating their season, like many expected – or maybe just me – instead Port are left with two genuinely baffling losses (again, maybe just for me).
Now they’re 0-3 with a fortnight of Melbourne (AO) and Carlton (MCG) to come.
How did it get here?
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Before we delve into the negatives, it’s important to start by being clear with my belief Port Adelaide’s list isn’t in any trouble from a medium to long term perspective.
It’s not flawless by any means – obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be 0-3 – but there is talent across all lines, both established/in their prime, along with up and coming.
Here’s their list demographic illustrating as much:
OK, now. Here we go.
The Round 1 loss to Brisbane was perfectly normal. To run one of the best two teams in the league close, away from home, missing key players and with those on the field dropping like ninepins throughout, it doesn’t make for any ringing alarm bells.
The problem with Round 2 and 3 was how they were lost in completely different defensive ways.
If both losses were due to the same malady, it’s at least acceptable because the problem is, to state the obvious, one thing. You get to work fixing the single issue and things start to turn around.
In Port’s case, it’s like playing whack a mole. One problem goes down, another pops up, and before you know it there’s too much going on to deal with.
The loss to Hawthorn was based nearly completely on their forward half output, both with and without the ball.
It was a complete dominance in so many areas. 74 more disposals, 24 more clearances, 12 more inside 50s and even 19 more tackles. Yet because of their ball use going inside 50, and their breakdown in forward half defending, Port conceded nine goals from possession chains starting in their defensive half, and 19 goals overall from just 46 Hawthorn entries.
There are clips in the Round 2 Notebook to demonstrate. Though the theme of that post is about who deserves more credit, rest assured the Power’s internal focus all week would have been making sure nothing of the sort happened against Adelaide.
To Port’s credit, the forward half defence did improve, although it was still short of where they’d want it to be.
To Port’s dismay, instead they were beaten another way.
For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here are links to catch up with:
It’s all well and good to attack from stoppages and put scores on the board that way.
It also counts for next to nothing if you’re basically making a conscious decision to play
Russian Stoppage Roulette, because that looseness means you’re immediately giving up whatever score you’re putting on the board. The kicker is when that mindset seeps into other areas of the game, and suddenly sides are scoring at will.
Although Port have been a touch unlucky with opposition sides’ accuracy, Hawthorn (+26 points) and Adelaide (+18 points) outperforming their expected score by some distance, it doesn’t count for all of their problems.
Port are conceding a goal from nearly 32 percent (31.91) of opposition inside 50s. Some extra context for this number:
– Worst in the league by a distance (Essendon are 17th, at 27.07 percent)
– Their 2021 number was 19.41 percent, second best in the league
There is simply not enough pressure on the ball carrier around contests, which is allowing teams to move through the field at will.
These two screenshots tell a story. Adelaide have possession, surrounded by Power players…
…but those Power players aren’t able to impact at all, which leads to an under control clearing kick where it’s four on one Adelaide’s way.
Opponents are also allowed to cruise around at will when teammates are in possession.
Here we see Harry Schoenberg casually going for a Friday night stroll, barely breaking past a jog…
…until he stops with a mark inside 50, which he goals from.
Then there’s Lachie Sholl, starting right up the top of screen (highlighted)…
…working past everyone and getting a goal for his troubles.
The coup de grace for this mindset and mentality came at a late stoppage to key Adelaide’s comeback.
Elliott Himmelberg started here at a forward 50 stoppage…
…and kicked a goal from here, all the while untouched and apparently unsighted.
It all speaks to a side unable to carry out defensive bread and butter tasks which have served them so well in the past.
Things don’t get any easier from here…
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In the here and now, Aliir Aliir and Charlie Dixon are their two most important players. Aliir for the mistakes he single-handedly erases defensively, Dixon with his presence allowing the other forward pieces to click into place.
But they’ll both remain out for at least the next fortnight, with Dixon still listed as TBC on the Power’s injury report.
So Port have to look elsewhere for inspiration, and it really should start with a team wide renewed focus on simple things, i.e. basic defensive principles.
Outside of diehards, few will head into Thursday night believing Port are a realistic chance of winning on Thursday night, but the type of challenge Melbourne presents is exactly what Port need to be exposed to. Then they can use it as a baseline for the rest of the year, starting the following week against Carlton for what shapes as the most must-win game Round 5 has seen in many years.
Because if the win-loss record reads 0-5 in a fortnight, then it opens the door to bigger picture questions on where the club thinks they’re at, and how to approach the rest of 2022.