READ MORE - SATURDAY SCOREBOARD - August 10, 2019
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SANDHURST coach Ash Connick has again used a win over Golden Square to praise the character of his Dragons.
Back in round seven Connick was full of admiration for his side after it had trailed until just three minutes left in the game, but continued to hang in and ultimately clinch a one-point win over the Bulldogs at the QEO.
Saturday's return bout at Wade Street though was played much more on Sandhurst's terms, with the Dragons never headed after the seven-minute mark of the opening quarter.
But it was the way Sandhurst went about it, producing four quarters of high-pressure football in challenging conditions that most pleased Connick, whose Dragons prevailed 9.11 (65) to 6.9 (45) in a result that still keeps them in with a sniff of a top-three finish.
"I thought our boys were absolutely outstanding today," Connick said.
"We had a clear plan with the way we wanted to play the conditions and I thought they carried it out perfectly.
"The spirit they played with and their effort was just brilliant, so full credit to them; I'm really proud."
READ MORE - Golden Square v Sandhurst, round 16 | PHOTOS
The game was played with a howling breeze blowing to the Cathedral end.
So telling was the wind advantage that 13 of the game's 15 goals were kicked to that end of the ground.
The only goals kicked against the breeze were the first (by Square's Ryan Hartley) and last (by the Dragons' Matt Thornton) of the match.
And the two teams combined for just 24 entries inside 50 against the breeze as opposed to 62 with it.
After Hartley kicked the opening goal two minutes in from a set-shot, the Dragons reeled off the next five as they forced the Golden Square defence to work overtime.
Jake McLean, Thornton, Andrew Collins, Jed Zimmer and Callum Prest all booted first-quarter goals for the Dragons.
Collins' in particular was pure class when he received a handball from Thornton, wheeled onto his left and slotted it through the big sticks from the bowls club pocket.
After Sandhurst's five-goal opening stanza the Bulldogs could muster just two with their turn with the breeze in the second term, with their majors coming through Jordan Rosengren and Jayden Burke from a curling snap midway through the term.
Sandhurst's early scoreboard pressure had become all the more pivotal given the deterioration of the conditions in the second quarter as heavy rain poured down and the Wade Street lights were turned on.
Yet the second half was played in sunshine - albeit with the strong breeze still favouring the Cathedral end.
Three goals to nil in favour of the Dragons in the third term extended their 12-point half-time lead to 31 at the final change, and even with the breeze at Square's backs and some lacklustre last quarters of late from Sandhurst, the result looked in the visitors keeping.
However, a burst of three quick goals in the space of eight minutes through Nathan Holt, skipper Jack Geary and Liam Barrett breathed a sense of urgency back into the contest as the reinvigorated Bulldogs closed the gap to 12 points and had the momentum midway through the last term.
But the Bulldogs' surge was stifled by the Dragons' Thornton, who took a strong contested mark and then converted the set-shot against the breeze to ensure victory for Sandhurst.
Thornton was a strong-marking presence for the Dragons, whose best featured two of their midfield generals in captain Blair Holmes and Nick Stagg, who cracked in relentlessly for four quarters.
Lachlan Ross at both ends of the ground, consistent half-back Jake Pallpratt and Lachlan Zimmer on a wing also featured among the best for the Dragons, whose victory has come at a price.
Reliable defender Josh Hann has what is feared to be a season-ending collarbone injury; ruckman Chris Down was stretchered off in the final term after a collision with Square defender Jon Coe; while McLean ended the physical game with six stitches around his eye.
"We've still got a bit to work on, but I think we've got the basis there for a really good brand of finals-type footy," Connick said.
"If we tidy up a couple of areas with our execution then I think we can cause some damage."
For the Bulldogs - who won the inside-50 count 45-41 and centre breaks 11-9 - star midfielder Adam Baird didn't play after half-time after suffering a corkie, while youngsters Harry Bynon (shoulder) and Harry McCormick (knee) both ended the game worse for wear.
The Bulldogs' standout was clearly Geary, who did his usual power of grunt work, while Burke again showed why he has one of the best sets of contested hands in the competition with several strong marks.
"It was a disappointing result; we felt we prepared well, but we just weren't good enough," Square coach Bernie Haberman said.
"I don't normally say this about our defenders, but I thought they struggled today... they lost their shape and probably didn't adapt to the conditions to be ruthless enough in their contest.
"The midfield battle was fairly even, but we struggled to kick goals."
Golden Square's score of 45 came a week after it could muster just 43 against Eaglehawk
Meanwhile, the pre-game featured a tribute to Bulldogs' great Peter Moroni, who died last month after a battle with MND.
Both sides - as well as Moroni's 1979 premiership team-mates who were celebrating a 40-year reunion - observed a minute' silence on the wing named in his honour.
STRONG DEFENSIVE EFFORT LEADS BLOODS TO BACK-TO-BACK
SOUTH Bendigo produced its best defensive effort of the BFNL season on Saturday as it made it back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
The Bloods dished out a 60-point hiding to Kangaroo Flat at Dower Park, winning 15.8 (98) to 4.14 (38).
Having previously won just two of their first 14 games, the Bloods have now strung together two on the trot, with Saturday's victory coming a week after their gritty come-from-behind triumph over Kyneton.
While the final margin was 60 points, there were only five scoring shots the difference, but the Roos frittered away chances, particularly after half-time when they scored 3.12.
The Bloods kicked seven of their 15 goals during the second term when they took a stranglehold on the contest.
While the Bloods - who have re-appointed coach Nathan Horbury for next season - have had a heavy reliance on star forward Kaiden Antonowicz this year, they had a spread of nine players kick goals led by the lively Mitch Goodwin (four) and Dylan McCutcheon (three), who were both among the best for the victors.
In what was a disappointing result for the Roos, who had started the day above the Bloods on the ladder, but finished below them, they had positives in the performances of several youngsters including Ethan Roberts, Kobe Brown, Brodie Fry and Darcy Poulter.
Meanwhile, goal umpire Darryl Hamilton ended the game in hospital after suffering a broken arm.
Hamilton slipped in the first quarter and sustained the injury while trying to break his fall.
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