A dreadful first half by the Sydney Swans against the Adelaide Crows on Friday night consigned them to their second loss of the season at the SCG.
The Crows stifled the Swans midfield and defence from the outset, pressuring them relentlessly and forcing them into numerous turnovers.
The Crows midfield was decimated by injury with Sloane and both Crouch brothers missing, but it was Laird, Seedsman and Atkins that dominated for the Crows, with Atkins kicking two goals in the first quarter.
The Swans couldn’t get their hands on the ball for the first 15 minutes, with 92% of the play in the Crows forward half.
Something had to change at half-time, with the Swans midfield clearly beaten, not just on the scoreboard, but also in possessions, with Kennedy registering just 6 disposals, along with leaders Parker (4), Hannebery (8), Heeney (6), Jones (9) and Franklin (5) well down on career averages.
Worse yet, the Swans couldn’t get first use of the ball, with the Crows dominating clearances 16-6 and first possessions 20-4.
Coach John Longmire lamented the first half performance by his midfield group, on a night they were well beaten, despite a resurgent third quarter.
“The problems started a lot before the third quarter. I mean the first half we were 6-16 clearances, 4-20 first possessions,” Longmire said.
“The first quarter was the problem and unfortunately that puts you on the back foot and makes you reactive to how you setup because you need some support.
“If you're not winning the ball around the contests, you need some support and then you get out numbered in your front half, and then it becomes a vicious cycle and you become reactive.
“You need to be winning the ball where it matters and it’s very difficult to get proactive when you're not winning the footy.”
Despite a second half comeback, registering 20 more inside 50s and 6 more scoring shots, the midfield still struggled, with Jones and Cunningham the only midfielders to register more than 20 disposals.
Winning the ball was clearly an issue for the Swans, Longmire said, with the defenders topping the stats sheet.
“Our mids (sic) didn't touch it much at all in the first half. I think all of our possession getters were our defenders and with those stats, it’s probably not surprising you know, we just got well beaten in the middle of the ground,” Longmire said.
“We've got to start better than that. We've got to be more; we just didn't win our contests and they were better at it than us.”
Despite an impressive comeback in the third quarter, the Swans kicked two goals to one, with Seedsman kicking a soul-crushing goal on the eve of the third quarter siren.
The Swans reduced the margin to two points before the Crows kicked the last 8-points of the quarter, heading into the final break 10-points up.
The Swans had plenty of chances in the last quarter to get a result, kicking 4.9 (33), the same score that Adelaide kicked in the first quarter.
The Crows managed to kick two crucial goals to extend the margin to a game-high 27-points early in the last quarter, which Longmire blamed on evening up the numbers around the ground.
“They missed some in the first quarter, otherwise it might have been a bit worse at quarter time,” Longmire said.
“The third quarter there was a period there for 15 minutes, we got some hit, and then we tried to even it up and then the last quarter for a period of time we tried to even it up, and then they kicked 2 goals and put it out to 21 points again.
“Then we had to go back to another angle, but obviously you're going to get out numbered then. It was the story of the night.
“It starts if you don't win the ball. If you don't win the ball it’s very difficult to get proactive in any way.”
Despite the Swans’ inside-50 dominance in the last quarter (18-10), every time they went inside 50, their forwards were outnumbered sometimes 2 or 3 to 1.
When the Swans did even up the numbers, the Crows capitalized, frustrating Longmire.
“We tried in the last quarter to even it up and when we did they kicked a couple of goals and it blew out again,” Longmire said.
“That's what happened. We didn't even it up when we wanted to even it up, we didn't get those things done.
“In the last quarter they went with an extra one and once we pushed that even number up, he was either in the wrong spot, or they kicked two easy goals on the back of that and it went back out to 21 points.
“With about 7 minutes to go, we had to do something different again.”
The midfield leaders on the ground were well down on their usual lofty standards, with defender Dane Rampe the only one that could hold his head high.
Kennedy, Parker and Hannebery were beaten by their opposite numbers, while Grundy and Smith had their colours lowered.
While the structure seemed to be at sea at times, particularly with the Crows forward line exposing their opposite numbers, Longmire pointed out that it was the midfielders inability to win first use of the ball that caused the structural issues, rather than evening up numbers.
“It's about winning the ball because if you even it up, then we get scored against, so that's the conundrum you're faced with,” Longmire said.
“We want to even it up, we'll make it even numbers, but then we get scored against, and that's what you can't get in to, because you end up chasing your tail a bit.”
The Swans two losses have come when Sam Reid has been out of the side. He’s managed just one game this season and won’t be available again until after the bye.
The Swans don’t have a replacement with Kurt Tippett retiring in the off-season, and his replacements yet to debut, with Aliir Aliir tried in the role last week.
Longmire said that the Swans may look to the NEAFL for another option, but Sam Reid isn’t the answer at the moment.
“He's not there, so you can't do much about that,” Longmire said.
“He's not going to back for a while so we have to get it right, but we've got to win the ball, you've got to look at the structure.
“If you come home with those sort of numbers at half-time with your midfield group, you've got to win the ball.
“I know they'll say we had more inside 50s, but we are reactive, particularly from early in the game.
“We'll consider the structural changes during the course of the week, but our midfield numbers at half-time, our midfield possessions even, or winning the contests around the footy just weren't up to scratch.”
Midfield bull Josh Kennedy’s last two matches have been far below his career averages, and while he had registered just 6 disposals at half-time, he finished the match with 13 disposals, 4 clearances and 8 tackles.
Form, not injury, is Kennedy’s concern, and it’s something he’s working on rectifying, Longmire said.
“He's going through a leaner patch that he probably hasn't been through for a while,” Longmire said.
“He'll be working on his game and getting himself right, but he was quiet tonight.”
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