READ MORE - Saturday Scoreboard, May 8, 2021
FOR the second time in a fortnight Sandhurst was forced to grind out a hard-fought win in the final term after giving up a position of dominance at three quarter-time in the Bendigo league.
On Saturday the Dragons looked to have their 1 vs 2 clash against South Bendigo at the QEO well in hand when they led the Bloods by 30 points at the final change.
Facing a 30-point deficit and having only kicked four goals to that stage, the Bloods faced an uphill battle.
However, implored by coach Nathan Horbury to take the game on, the Bloods surged and a pulsating final quarter played out that featured four lead changes before the Dragons steadied late to prevail 13.13 (91) to 11.16 (82).
The result leaves Sandhurst as the BFNL's only unbeaten team after five rounds, while it was the Bloods' first defeat of the season.
"We're obviously really happy with our start to the year, particularly given how close the competition seems to be," Dragons coach Ashley Connick said.
"To be 5-0 and having beaten three other finals contenders (South Bendigo, Golden Square and Strathfieldsaye) is massive for us.
"These early wins are just like gold... we'll bank them and look to keep getting better."
These early wins are just like gold... we'll bank them and look to keep getting betterAshley Connick - Sandhurst coach
The pressure that the Dragons had applied over the first three quarters lapsed during the final term and the Bloods pounced as they unleashed their running brand of football to the city end that had been one of the hallmarks of their first month.
Led by midfielder Cooper Leon, who was enormous in the final term with his clearance work and drive, and star forward Kaiden Antonowicz getting off the leash, in the space of 18 minutes the Bloods had gone from a 30-point deficit to leading by two points.
With the Dragons barely able to get the ball forward of centre, the fast-finishing Bloods had the first seven scoring shots of the final term and kicked 5.2.
Antonowicz kicked the first first four of the five goals, and when Brock Harvey nailed a long-range set shot after several misses earlier in the game the Bloods led 69-67 with enormous momentum behind them.
Desperately needing to respond, the Dragons did as Matt Thornton marked in the forward pocket and snapped the goal to put Sandhurst back in front, 73-69.
Thornton's goal though was quickly answered down the other end a minute later by the Bloods' Sunny Brazier, who slotted his second, to give South Bendigo back the lead, 75-73.
Enter the Dragons' Brodie Montague.
Montague proved to be the game-breaker for the Dragons with a four-minute purple patch in which he booted three goals in succession to give Sandhurst a 15-point buffer.
Montague's third goal followed a smart piece of one-on-one body work to mark 20m out.
But as Montague was lining up to take his kick, a melee off the ball erupted and out of the fracas Bloods' coach Horbury had been issued a yellow card and reported for an incident against Joel Wharton.
In a costly blow, the Bloods were left with just 17 players on the field to fight the final five minutes of the game out minus their leader and while they did kick the last goal of the match through Brazier, who finished with three, they couldn't bridge the gap.
"It wasn't good leadership by myself... I let everyone down, so I'm really disappointed in myself," Horbury said.
The Dragons were forced to play the bulk of the game one player down after Isaac Ruff was taken to hospital following a sickening clash with Brazier as the pair both went hard at a marking contest six minutes in.
While Brazier played on, Ruff was left worse for wear.
"He was obviously well out of it when he came off the ground. He will be a sick and sorry boy for a few days and we certainly hope that it's nothing significant," Connick said.
"He's just such a tough player; to even put himself in that position is something he does all the time and is really inspiring for the team."
The Dragons' best player was James Coghlan, who was prominent in the midfield from the outset.
Montague, Joel Wharton, who kicked three of his four goals during the third term, veteran on-baller Blair Holmes (two goals), ruckman Chris Down and running defender Noah Walsh, who impressed again in just his fifth senior game, were also in the Dragons' best.
Saturday's win resembled that of the Dragons' victory against Golden Square two weeks earlier when they had also led by 30 points at three quarter-time, but only got over the line by two points.
For the Bloods, they were left to lament missed opportunities at goal.
Of the 16 behinds the Bloods kicked, 10 were misses from set-shots, including seven in the first half.
As well as the squandered opportunities, Horbury said the Bloods had been outworked by the Dragons throughout the first three quarters.
"We didn't have our intent or attack on the footy like we did against Gisborne last week. They won the footy at the contest and then spread hard away and we didn't go with them," Horbury said.
"We had our chances throughout, but didn't take our opportunities, but for me, today purely comes down to work-rate and theirs was much higher than ours.
"We finished the game well, but you can't play one good quarter against a side like Sandhurst."
The Bloods' best featured ball magnet Leon, Antonowicz (five goals), the classy Brazier and busy defender Zac Hare.
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