MELBOURNE has survived an almighty scare after Adelaide's fourth-quarter rally to hang on for a four-point victory at the MCG on Sunday to reinforce its grip on a top-four spot and significantly dent the visitors' flickering finals hopes.
After trailing by 24 points at three-quarter time, Adelaide sensationally squared the game up with 15 minutes left after a burst of four quick goals, but the Demons immediately responded with sub Joel Smith, Taj Woewodin and Kade Chandler booting goals to reclaim a 20-point buffer.
Melbourne improved to 12-6 in fourth, pulling two wins clear of the fifth-placed Western Bulldogs with five rounds to play.
The electric Pickett was arguably Melbourne's best afield with 20 disposals, two goals and two goal assists, along with four tackles. Jack Viney (27 disposals and a goal), Christian Petracca (26) and Angus Brayshaw (25 with a game-high 16 contested possessions) were brilliant around the contest, while Kade Chandler kicked three goals.
Melbourne had led by as many as 32 points in the third quarter after Pickett's second goal and always appeared the more likely victor, yet the gallant Crows kept persisting, booting seven goals to three in the final quarter but never hitting the front.
Adelaide's inaccuracy in the first three quarters, particularly from set shots, didn't help its cause in an even match where it edged inside 50s 54-52, but was beaten for contested possessions (150-128) and clearances (39-32) with Max Gawn's ruck ascendancy over Reilly O'Brien a factor.
Gawn booted the opening goal of the game with a long bomb as the Demons started the stronger without putting it on the scoreboard. Rankine produced a moment of magic for Adelaide's first, fending off two defenders on the boundary, before combining with Rory Sloane and snapping sharply from a tough angle.
After holding a four-point lead at quarter-time, Melbourne kicked four goals in a scintillating 12-minute span with two each from Chandler and last week's matchwinner Jake Melksham to blow the game open.
Melbourne made the visitors pay in the third term, led by Pickett who directly assisted Viney's goal, before booting the next two himself, the latter opening up a 32-point lead.
Rankine responded for Adelaide with a perfect front-and-centre roving goal as the Crows put together three of the next four goals to stay in touch, only for Gawn to kick a settling goal prior to three-quarter time.
But sub Smith made a major impact after replacing Ben Brown in the fourth quarter with his steadying goal, before setting up Woewodin with a lofted pass to the top of the square. The Crows kept coming led by Walker, but the Dees scraped home.
Gawn dominant without Grundy again
The future of off-season recruit Brodie Grundy was widely discussed during the week after Max Gawn dominated in his absence against Brisbane last round with a season-high 29 disposals, with the former omitted to work on his forward-half game. In his second game without splitting ruck duties with Grundy, Gawn's impact was significant again, beating Reilly O'Brien (38-20 hitouts) and finishing with 13 disposals including three clearances, eight marks and two goals. Meanwhile in the VFL on Saturday, Grundy had 12 touches, four marks and booted 1.3 for the Casey Demons.
Livewire duo put on a Sunday masterclass
Pickett and Rankine were a cut above most on the field with classy attacking displays for their respective sides. Pickett, who started in the middle, lit up the third quarter with two goals and he had a game-high 11 score involvements, with his tackling and pressure playing a big part. Rankine responded to being kept goalless for only the second time this season last week against Greater Western Sydney with a superb performance despite Judd McVee's close attention, which the Crows needed without suspended livewire Josh Rachele and injured ball-magnet Rory Laird. Sadly, Rankine's game ended needing assistance from the trainers to help him off the field after injuring his left hamstring in a late bouncing run forward.
MELBOURNE 2.2 6.4 11.7 14.13 (97)
ADELAIDE 1.4 3.9 6.13 13.15 (93)
Melbourne: Chandler 3, Pickett 2, Melksham 2, Gawn 2, Woewodin, Viney, Van Rooyen, Smith, Neal-Bullen
Adelaide: Walker 4, Rankine 3, Keays 2, Smith, Murphy, McAdam, Fogarty
Melbourne: Pickett, Viney, Brayshaw, Gawn, Chandler, Petracca
Adelaide: Rankine, Walker, Hinge, Dawson, Milera, Crouch
Adelaide: Murray (knee), Rankine (hamstring)
Adelaide: Ned McHenry and Patrick Parnell (illness) replaced in selected side by Luke Nankervis and Lachlan Murphy
Melbourne: Joel Smith (replaced Ben Brown in fourth quarter)
Adelaide: Jackson Hately (replaced Jordon Butts in third quarter)
Crowd: 33,122 at the MCG