Ratten said it was as bad a performance the Saints have delivered since he took hold of the reins in 2019. He said Josh Battle was his team’s only clear winner.
“I think it’s a reality check for your players,” Ratten said. “You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and tonight’s performance was very, very bad.
“When you look at all aspects of the game, yeah we probably halved clearance numbers by the end. Some of the spread, ball use, defense and the combination of the game we were below in nearly every aspect.
“Probably because I didn’t see it coming, that’s what stung our coaching group the most. Our ability to be consistent in all phases of the game has been really good.
“We haven’t been perfect. If we have a slip up it might only be for a quarter or a patch. Today it was nearly the whole game bar 10 minutes, half a quarter.”
The Dons, coming off four consecutive losses, have steadily improved since their shocker in Sydney but that progress had not translated to wins.
The spark came from Stringer, who was criticized last week by Rutten in his comeback game. The former Bulldogs star had just four possessions to half-time, but ignited his team with a scintillating third term.
His first goal from long range snapped a run of five straight goals for the Saints and renewed belief within his team. Minutes later, with his confidence up, he was attempting audacious kicks off the ground for goal, but it was his pressure which most impressed Rutten.
“I thought he responded and was back to the Jake that we know,” Rutten said. “What I love most about his game, he had the six tackles, fifty-odd pressure points. That’s Jake at his best.
“We know if he’s got the game involvement, he attended more center bounces, he’s in the game, pressing and competing. It’s not a problem when he gets his hands on the ball so that part of his game, that was what I was most pleased with.”
The Bombers’ boldness at selection by picking an undersized defense against Max King, Rowan Marshall and Tim Membery was vindicated. King was held to just one goal by Jordan Ridley, and they were damaging on the rebound through Nick Hind, Mason Redman, Dyson Heppell and Massimo D’Ambrosio.
Their forwards were lively, sweating on the Saints’ every move and making important interceptions to lock the ball in their attacking half. Stringer set the tone with his hustle drawing an errant kick from Jade Gresham for the first of the Dons’ four goals in the opening term.
The Saints were off, their ball use sloppy. So concerned was Ratten, he deployed forward Tim Member as a spare player in defense in the second term. It slowed Essendon’s scoring but did not help them score either.
MORE MID-SEASON TREASURE?
The Bombers have found some handy talent in the recently resumed mid-season draft – and this year may be no different. There was a bit to like about D’Ambrosio’s senior debut. The teenage rookie from Richmond’s VFL team has been given the No. 42 formerly worn by Adam Saad, and with his run and left boot bears more than a small resemblance to his predecessor. D’Ambrosio, with 15 possessions, was part of the Dons’ running brigade from defense that provided much-needed verve to their ball movement. “I thought he was great,” Rutten said. “He’s been in the club two weeks, he’s still working out how to get to training and all that.”
FROM HARD COMES EASY
If Rutten wants to show his players how easy can come from hard, then he should highlight the thrilling end-to-end passage of play that resulted in a goal to Peter Wright.
Unlucky not to be rewarded for Dylan Shiel’s desperate tackle in the centre, the Dons did not drop their bundle. Deep in defense, Andrew McGrath won a clutch one-on-one marking contest at the top of the square against Jack Higgins. From there, they spread the ball the width of the field, stretching the Saints’ defensive zone.
It resulted in Wright being able to take a big mark 20 out and convert.
ST KILDA 2.1 3.3 8.4 11.6 (72)
ESSENDON 4.5 7.7 13.11 15.17 (107)
St Kilda: Gresham 3, Billings 2, Higgins 2, Long, Marshall, King, Ryder
Essendon: Wright 4, Jones 2, Stringer 2, Guelfi 2, Draper 2, Perkins, Martin, Durham
St Kilda: Battle, Gresham, Sinclair, Hill.
Essendon: Hind, Redman, Caldwell, Wright, Ridley, Merrett, Shiel, McGrath, Stringer.