It was a fair attempt to beat the Blues, but it’s all a bit hard for mediocre Saints

The Saints have a lot to overcome to feel like 2022 was a successful season.

Keeping the door ajar at the finals, St Kilda produced their most memorable performance against the Blues.

It’s a game that many fans are proud of, and for good reason, as the three weeks leading up to the round 16 win were truly horrendous.

And there are certainly some to suggest that the Saints are lucky to have won – the Blues scored just 10 goals out of 28 goals, surpassing St Kilda’s shots by five.

So also we have to recognize that St Kilda could have been five goals ahead and, more importantly, should have been in the quarter. By then, the match would be over.

Still, we just need to step back and think about how much weight we can put on the single performance.

The Blues are a good team and the Saints controlled the game with undisputed ball. They won the clearance battle and even broke in the tackles, limiting Carlton to 23 fewer dives than usual while selling 30 more than their own season average.

We know Carlton was understaffed defensively for a while, but that’s not how the Saints won in 50. On the other hand, the Blues were dominant in dogfights when Dougal Howard was removed from the equation.

And therein lies part of the total problem.

We discussed St Kilda earlier in the season (cool the flag talk, the Saints aren’t even guaranteed finalists yet), much to the chagrin of many a supporter, but fears the style of play was untenable and one-dimensional it wasn’t that far off target.

The fact that they just beat Carlton without relying on numbers within 50 was almost an accidental coincidence, rather than some sort of concocted plan.

Max King

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Saints are having an extremely hard time running home and the way they are playing hasn’t fared particularly well against the best teams.

They still average 7.47 sales per inside 50, which is the highest number in the league outside of the two historically poor teams that are shrinking to the bottom of the ladder.

They’ve averaged the fourth-lowest in the 50s, they still haven’t recaptured the strength of last year’s tackles within the 50s, and frankly, they’re relying on the hopes that Jack Sinclair, Brad Hill and Nasiah Wanganeen -Milera can keep the game untouched. †

What really held the Saints back in their 5-1 season start has been the form of Max King and Jack Higgins in front of goal, which has clearly declined. King has been labeled one-dimensional by legends of the game, which is stiff for a 22-year-old who harbors hopes of a team, especially when they just want him to take up disputed points.

Overall, this means that Geelong’s win, which looked like a statement win, was more of an outlier. They had 12 tackles in 50 and dragged 12 disputed points down that game against a defense that won’t allow it.

Perhaps they found that legendary extra gear or, more likely, they ended up in some positive situations that they had created for themselves in key moments.

But again, the Saints just knocked out the Blues and it must mean something.

It means there’s a bit of oomph in this team, finishing the game with a fraction of his available bench fit and being able to contribute.

They withstood an attack from Carlton, regardless of the ifs and buts surrounding it.

One thing the Saints did hold on to though was the defense and how it held up, but even that wasn’t as good as the raw numbers would suggest.

They have conceded the fifth fewest points in the league which is really great for supporters and especially some attention given to Callum Wilkie.

In the end, games are won and lost on the scores on the board, not on the numbers behind the scenes.

But to ignore it would be irresponsible – the club you support isn’t working and neither are we as a football community.

Teams are by far the most inaccurate against St Kilda. Now that can be a result of good defense and forcing harder shots, but that is rarely the cause of all shots. For example, watch the second half of Carlton’s game to see which shots they missed.

If we only talk about shots on target that score, ignoring full or failed long shots, the numbers reveal a little more of a problem.

The opposition scores 43.66% of the time breaching St Kilda’s defensive arch.

In comparison, Adelaide concedes a score 43.41% of the time and Hawthorn 43.59%.

The Dockers at 37.37%, the Demons at 38.59% and Geelong at 40.22%.

Perhaps most surprising, Richmond admits a score of 44.76% of their within 50s, although as the second highest scoring team in the league, they are currently content to win shootouts while having defensive structures to to fall back on.

Zak Jones of the Saints celebrates a goal.

Zak Jones of the Saints celebrates a goal. (Image/Getty)

That figure puts the Saints in a rather mediocre place defensively, which feels a lot worse when you consider that they’ve conceded about 28 goals per game since the bye, while they averaged 17 themselves.

While Dougal Howard has had a rather lean season himself, with a 34.3% one-on-one loss and below average for interception points, knocking him out of the team will only further affect the already underpowered defense.

Again, the win against Carlton was a great event for all of us to celebrate as it meant the Saints showed courage and were able to stop the significant drop, but the lingering bad signs were still prevalent.

All of this means that if St Kilda and its fans still see the final as the single most important measure of success, they have so much to overcome internally before they even consider running home.

They play Fremantle, the Bulldogs, West Coast, Hawthorn, Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney.

That’s four really good teams, one team that is offensively dangerous and two worse teams that tend to find something in the backend of seasons.

Replacing Howard is nearly impossible, regardless of form. He takes the master key forward, and given his six-inch stature, there’s no one of size to take on that role, except the inexperienced Darragh Joyce who’s two inches shorter.

Tom Highmore earns opportunities as an interceptor and Wilkie has bravely played above his weight all season at just 191 inches, while Josh Battle was pretty good as a floating defender.

Lots of rotation, auxiliary defense is a huge shift from how the Saints have played this season so far, but realistically if they go under it might as well swing.

They can always throw Max King on the defensive for the next month.

Missing Jack Steele for part mid-season has seemingly coincided with the poorer results, but midfield form has remained relatively consistent throughout – it’s just that there isn’t enough variety.

But tribute to Brad Crouch, Jade Gresham and Seb Ross, who have had decent seasons on a team on the edge of eight.

And while it may be disappointing, maybe that should be just enough for fans of St Kilda and Saints.

Celebrating the good wins is important and the one against Carlton certainly qualifies as such.

But the Saints weren’t great in 2022 and that’s okay, it just means fans have to wait that much longer for the joys of September.

To get over the general tactical slump, backing up stats, as well as drafting issues and injuries, is a bridge too far to be a celebratory year for Red, White and Black.