Coach Alan Richardson has conceded the Saints are in a "hole" and their goal-kicking woes have taken the air out of their season.
The Saints, with just the one win and a draw, slipped to their fifth loss of the year on Sunday after being soundly beaten by Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.
They were second last in the league for set-shot goal-kicking accuracy heading into the clash (48 per cent) but again had another horror afternoon, scoring just 17 points in the first term from nine overall shots. That malaise would continue, having been an issue in a campaign which has left the Saints near the foot of the ladder.
Key forward Paddy McCartin was goalless and finished injured on the bench because of whiplash. A type-1 diabetic, he had to sit for the opening 10 minutes of the second term because club doctors found he had hypoglycaemia, as his blood sugar levels were too low. He returned and clashed heads in a marking contest with Neville Jetta but passed a concussion test.
While Richardson maintains the 2014 No.1 draft pick can become the player the Saints had expected, his immediate aim is to find a way to ease the team's goal-kicking problems.
The Saints had rallied early in the third term but a lack of production in front of goal sapped the side of energy.
"After half-time, (we were) really strong for about 10 minutes (but) weren't able to maximise. It did seem a little bit today like and, it's disappointing but I think it's understandable, that we then a lost a bit of drive. It was if the energy had been sapped out of the group," he said.
"We don't want that, we don't want to except that, but I reckon that was reality for parts of it. Full credit to Melbourne … our inability to cope with their pressure, I think we ended up with 40 more handballs than kicks, that's not our want. There is a fair chance it (goal-kicking) was deflating.
"I get incredibly frustrated for us, I get incredibly frustrated for the players. You are just not going to beat anyone given our even the competition is unless you can take advantage of your opportunities. You start to think about what it is doing to the rest of them and clearly it's something that we have to fix."
Seb Ross, Jade Gresham, Rowan Marshall and McCartin were repeated offenders in front of goal.
Richardson said it would be a test to see how his players rebounded with still so much of the season left.
"It's pretty clear we are in a hole, a win-loss hole, a making-the-most-of-our-opportunities hole, our overall footy is in a hole. I am really looking forward to who stands up," he said.
"My responsibility it to make sure we are doing the right things on the training track, that my messaging gives them the head space to go out and be proactive … and then the rest of it is up to the boys."
Richardson said McCartin had needed his blood sugar levels tested early in the second term.
"Everyone knows Paddy has type-1 diabetes … there was a little period that it (blood glucose level) was a little bit high so he just had to sit out for a bit but it also has happened before but not for a long time. The doctors and Paddy are right on top of that in terms of how they manage that," he said.
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin was delighted his team had built on the momentum generated from last week's win against Essendon, leaving the Demons outside the top eight only on percentage.
"We are playing the right way for longer periods in games … three weeks ago we had a really disappointing game against Hawthorn but in the last few weeks, they are really starting to build some consistency in the way they play," he said.
"The back six are now starting to play some good footy together … that fight -to-the-death mentality down back is really important for us."
Angus Brayshaw had a career high 33 disposals while midfield bull Clayton Oliver was typically productive, having 36 disposals, including 28 handballs and 20 contested on a day the Demons dominated the contested-possession count 157-135.
Key forward Jesse Hogan was superb, his athletic prowess on show at centre half-forward. He booted three goals and had a hand in several others but he could be scrutinised for staging after winning a contentious free kick against Jake Carlisle.
Goodwin said Hogan, who had battled an ankle injury through the week, had physically matured to handle one of the sport's most demanding positions.
"His performances have been really strong all season … get up the ground at times and have an impact in the game but also to get back inside 50 and kick some goals for us," he said.
"He has built some really strong habits around his training. He trains more than he ever used to, his body is prepared better. He is physically more mature in the way he can handle the loads of a full season and game. He is in great physical shape and I think he is in a great mental space to compete strongly week after week."
Where the league trend as been to have even just the one key forward, the Demons had three tall options inside attacking 50, with Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman contributing and ruckman Max Gawn, the latter arguably best on ground, also pushing forward to contribute on the scoreboard.
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.
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