COMETH the hour, cometh the man.
Josh Kennedy climbed from the canvas to underline his match-winning credentials last night, as West Coast survived an ambush from St Kilda at Domain Stadium.
The Eagles trailed for nearly the entire match, before scraping home thanks to a lift in intensity when it mattered most.
Having barely been sighted, with just three disposals across the first three quarters, Kennedy emerged as a giant figure mid-way through a pulsating final term to kick three late goals.
With the Eagles down by 13 points, he dragged down two big marks in the space of three minutes and kicked accurately both times.
Kennedy added his fourth for the match to all but seal the result with three minutes remaining as West Coast breathed a huge sigh of relief.
A gutted St Kilda was left with nothing to show for their 32 scoring shots, with a rare interstate win slipping through their fingers as the accurate Eagles powered home to triumph 18.8 (116) to 13.19 (97).
It took until time-on of the last quarter for West Coast to grab the lead for the first time, with Josh Hill getting his third to complement Kennedy’s late show.
Elliot Yeo continued his blistering start to the new season with a rampaging display off half-back, while Luke Shuey was influential with 30 touches and two goals.
It was hard work for Adam Simpson’s men, who were short-priced favourites to get the job done after starting with an impressive win on the road last weekend.
Just 24 minutes in, West Coast knew they would be in for a hell of a fight as the Saints, powered by some ferocious pressure and a slick transition game, kicked three goals in a row to open up a shock 25-point lead.
The sloppy Eagles did well to restrict the quarter-time damage to 19 points, kicking four goals straight as St Kilda kicked six goals from 13 scoring shots in an opening term that sent an ominous warning.
Adam Simpson said last week he didn’t want to play shootout footy, however the Eagles knew early it would take a big score to win after conceding 43 points in the first quarter – the biggest first-term score they had conceded to a visiting side at Subiaco in nine years.
Kennedy didn’t have a touch in the opening quarter as the disciplined Saints used an effective zone to choke West Coast’s ball movement before hurting them on the break.
The Eagles began to work their way back into the contest in the second term, putting the brakes on the Saints but still looking vulnerable to conceding goals out the back.
Veteran Leigh Montagna pounced on a Sharrod Wellingham handball to extend the margin, and it took an overruled from the video review umpire to save the Eagles from falling 25 points behind again late in the second term.
Maverick Weller’s second goal was eventually disallowed after a review upheld appeals from the Eagles that defender Tom Barrass had got a finger to the ball.
It proved to be a crucial turning point, with the home side closing the gap to just nine points at the major break after goals to Nathan Vardy, his first for the club, and Hill.
An efficient St Kilda was left to lament their failure to convert more of their first-half opportunities, with the Saints creating 20 scoring shots from just 24 inside 50 entries but kicking 8.12.
The home side’s all-star midfield brigade was dominated in the clearance battle to begin the third quarter, however the Eagles managed to stay in touch despite continuing to live dangerously.
Kennedy weighed into the game early in the third term when he snapped his first after a sharp handball from Sam Mitchell.
Ruckman Jonathan Giles kicked a miraculous goal from an acute angle in time-on of the third term to give his team another lifeline.
When Shuey kicked a set shot after the three-quarter time siren, for his second goal, the Eagles trailed by six points and were well placed to pounce.
WEST COAST 4.0 8.3 13.5 18.8 (116)
ST KILDA 6.7 8.12 12.17 13.19 (97)
Goals: West Coast: J Kennedy 4 J Hill 3 C Masten 2 J Darling 2 L Shuey 2 J Cripps J Giles M LeCras M Priddis N Vardy. St Kilda: J Bruce 2 J Lonie 2 M Weller 2 P McCartin 2 B Acres J Gresham L Dunstan L Montagna T Membrey.
Best: West Coast: L Shuey, A Gaff, E Yeo, M Priddis, J Kennedy, J McGovern. Saints: S Ross, D Roberton, J Lonie, T Hickey, L Montagna.
Umpires: Chris Donlon, David Harris, Robert O’Gorman.
Official Crowd: 37,749 at Domain Stadium.
Originally published as Phew! Eagles survive Saints scare