Werribee’s tough start to 2018 continued with a 51-point loss to Sandringham at Trevor Barker Beach Oval on Sunday.
A five-goal burst to the Zebras to open the second term proved pivotal to the end result, opening up a 49-point point advantage approaching the main break that the visitors were never able to seriously threaten.
But the damage was arguably done earlier than that, Werribee unable to use the typically breezy bayside conditions to its advantage or clamp down on its opposition through a high-scoring opening term that left it 15 points adrift at the first change.
Despite a week of upheaval that saw three-time best-and-fairest winner Matt Hanson and defender Louis Pinnuck both sidelined with injury, Werribee senior coach John Lamont refused to offer personnel changes as an excuse for his side’s performance.
“Those guys obviously came out of the side, but we restructured well and had our opportunities,” said Lamont.
“Sandringham kicked [more than] 20 goals today, so we just didn’t defend well enough.
“Too often, our game was littered with mistakes, whether it was a fumble, a decision-making error, a missed kick, a missed tackle, or a missed spoil.
“We’re genuinely disappointed with today’s game, and we just need to get back to basics a little bit.”
With Sandringham having not previously won since round two, Sunday loomed as a prime opportunity for Werribee to break its own run of three straight defeats and arrest its less-than-favourable recent record against the Zebras.
Instead, the visitors were beaten in every quarter in what proved to be their second-heaviest defeat of 2018, yet they also managed to record their second-highest score for the year, the final margin a reflection of their inability to contain Sandringham or generate momentum for long enough periods of the game.
With Kye Declase, Josh Corbett, and Joe Maishman all recording multiple goals and even defenders Nick Coughlan and Sam Collins getting among the scoring action, the visitors had no shortage of avenues to goal.
But the Zebras seemed to find a reply for everything and at times scored too easily, often inflicting damage on the turnover or with a quick transition out of defence.
It wasn’t until Declase put through a set shot for his second at the 27-minute mark of the third quarter – just moments after an explosive burst from the middle by Maishman for a clearance goal – that Werribee had its first consecutive goals for the game.
Seconds later, Kurt Aylett made it three in a row with a banana snap from the forward pocket stoppage to give the away side its first real run of ascendancy for the afternoon.
But with the three-quarter time siren by then fast approaching and a seven-goal turnaround against the wind still required, it was ultimately a case of too little too late.
To their credit, the visitors toiled hard into the breeze in the final term, the end result of a near break-even of 3.3 to 4.1 perhaps the closest they came as a team to a small win across what was a difficult day.
At an individual level, small wins were easier to come by.
Having seemingly taken a shine to Trevor Barker Beach Oval, Maishman notched his second straight best-on-ground performance against the Zebras as Werribee’s most important midfielder.
His blistering speed out of the middle netted team-high clearance (eight) and inside-50 numbers (five) as well as two goals and was emblematic of his strengths as a player, but it was with ball not in hand that he was perhaps at his most impressive.
With 12 tackles to his name, Maishman topped his side’s tackling tally for a second straight week in yet another indication of his improved defensive game, showing he is more than capable of covering for the absence of Hanson and Dom Brew by providing some inside grunt to compliment his outside run.
Best afield for Werribee against Footscray last week, Dane McFarlane was again a standout across half back with 29 disposals, while Collins also featured prominently on the last line of defence as he again racked up the contested marks.
In the ruck, Jack Berry toiled hard all day against St Kilda-listed big man Billy Longer, and Joel Bennett was again lively in front of goal in the best of his three games as 23rd player to date.
Ben Moloney made a welcome return to the midfield thanks to his clearance work and tackling at the stoppages and was joined by Brenton Rees, back for his first game since round two, while Jack Williams also acquitted himself well down back in his first VFL match since 2016.
Now sitting at 1-6, Werribee will look to bounce back when it takes on the Box Hill Hawks at Box Hill City Oval on Saturday.
Sandringham: 6.3 11.7 17.9 21.10 (136)
Werribee: 4.0 5.1 10.4 13.7 (85)
Sandringham: N Smith 3, R Connellan 3, J Battle 3, J Haidon 2, Ha McLEan 2, J Noone, D Minchington, B Longer, R Marshall, J Sziller, B Paton, D Langlands, M Cook
Werribee: K Declase 3, J Maishman 2, J Corbett 2, B Rees, M Munro, K Aylett, S Collins, N Coughlan, J Bennett
Sandringham: D Armitage, D Minchington, N Wright, R Connellan, B Paton, T Lamb
Werribee: J Maishman, J Berry, D McFarlane, J Bennett, S Collins, B Moloney