THERE was a lingering suspicion that Melbourne was better than it was showing.
That belief's been severely tested in a 2019 campaign that started with one win in the first six rounds and added more unflattering moments in the opening half against Hawthorn on Saturday.
But the Demons just needed a victory – desperately – and that's what they got, by the skin of their teeth, in a dramatic 11.13 (79) to 11.8 (74) scoreline at the MCG.
With Gold Coast to come next week, albeit at Metricon Stadium, they now have a chance to establish some momentum before a brutal patch against West Coast, Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and Collingwood.
Jeff Garlett was one of the heroes after being a first-half villain, running down Luke Breust to create the play that saw Jayden Hunt set up fourth-gamer Jay Lockhart for the go-ahead goal.
Melbourne never lost the lead from there, with James Harmes (match-high 31 disposals) giving the Dees a 10-point buffer shortly after, but Breust's fourth major ensured the contest went down to the wire.
Harmes' afternoon could have been different, too, given he conceded a second 50m penalty for the day and subsequent simple goal for running into the protected area earlier in the final term.
The result was still up for grabs inside the final 20 seconds, with the Hawks on the edge of their attacking 50 and after Chad Wingard had moments earlier bobbled possession.
Hawthorn trailed by 14 points at three-quarter time, but snatched the lead through consecutive goals to Jack Gunston, Wingard and Jarryd Roughead to threaten another comeback like last week.
Roughead's was a 55m bomb on the run after Tim O'Brien cut off a poor Jordan Lewis kick to turn the ball over and continue the ex-Hawk's dirty day.
It may not have been so close if the Demons slotted more than five goals from their 10 scoring shots in the third term, compared to Breust and Gunston nailing difficult long-range attempts.
Even so, that quarter could prove decisive in Melbourne's season.
The men in red and blue won contested possession – the hallmark of last year's run to a preliminary final – by 17 in the third term alone and hounded and harassed their Hawthorn rivals.
Harmes was the fire-starter, getting going in the second quarter, when he won 12 possessions and shut Jaeger O'Meara out of the game.
However, Clayton Oliver, Hunt, Christian Salem and Michael Hibberd (despite six first-half giveaways) all contributed heavily in their own way.
Pivotal as well might be Tom McDonald's role in the third term, starting with him out-marking O'Brien then driving the ball long for a Garlett major, then marked and kicked his own later in the quarter.
Earlier, Garlett's decision to ignore an unattended McDonald – who could have done with a confidence-booster – to selfishly attempt a miracle dribbling goal from the boundary summed up the Dees' woes.
There were bulk turnovers that followed, many of them of the elementary variety, with usually good ball-users Marty Hore and Hibberd among the chief culprits.
And, of course, Christian Petracca's shanked set shot from 35m out in front that bounced before going through for a behind.
The Hawks, other than a bright patch in the second half of the opening quarter, were pretty humdrum themselves, but clung onto a nine-point advantage at the main break.
Another burst in the fourth term wasn't enough to avoid them slumping to a fourth defeat in seven rounds.
Melbourne: The Demons appeared to come through the match unscathed.
Hawthorn: Isaac Smith went into the rooms midway through the final quarter with a left foot problem.
There is still a flicker for Melbourne's season but the Demons will have to beat Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium next Saturday evening to maintain hope. The Hawks are falling a little off the top-eight pace and welcome Greater Western Sydney to the MCG on Sunday week.
MELBOURNE 2.3 4.5 9.10 11.13 (79)
HAWTHORN 4.5 5.8 7.8 11.8 (74)
Melbourne: Hunt 2, Brayshaw, Stretch, Fritsch, Jones, Garlett, McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Lockhart, Harmes
Hawthorn: Breust 4, Gunston 3, O'Meara, Lewis, Shiels, Roughead
Melbourne: Harmes, Gawn, Hibberd, Salem, Oliver
Hawthorn: Gunston, Shiels, O'Meara, Hardwick, Worpel
Umpires: Dalgleish, Gianfagna, McInerney
Official crowd: 40,864 at the MCG