A CLUTCH last-minute snap from Shaun Higgins has given North Melbourne a nail-biting five-point win over Melbourne in Hobart on Saturday afternoon.
Higgins kicked truly on his left to give the Kangaroos a narrow buffer, which was extended to six points when Jared Polec missed from long range from the ensuing centre bounce, but the luckless Demons had one last chance to draw the game only for Alex Neal-Bullen to skid his running shot into the base of the goal post with nine seconds remaining in the match.
Having trailed by 15 points midway through the third quarter, the Kangaroos hung on to consign Melbourne to a 17th loss in 2019, eventually winning 13.10 (88) to 12.11 (83)
Scores were tied as late as the 22nd minute of the final term before Bayley Fritsch (three goals) snapped a behind to give Melbourne the narrowest of leads with just under five minutes to play.
Jake Melksham (two goals) could only add another behind for the Demons before Higgins stepped up to win it at the death.
While it was tight throughout, it was far from a classic as both sides struggled to string together any kind of free-flowing football in a match that was effectively a dead rubber provideing little more than one last chance to sing the club song in 2019 and to farewell veteran campaigners Scott Thompson and Jordan Lewis.
Having produced a combined 10 goals to the long break, the game came to life during an 11-goal third quarter that saw the lead see-saw on several occasions.
Quick Melbourne goals to Corey Wagner and Nathan Jones had cancelled out Higgins’ reviewed snap, nudging Melbourne into a narrow lead which then flip-flopped as both sides traded majors midway through the third quarter.
Star ruckman Max Gawn showed composure in front of goal to boot a couple of neat set-shots in the third.
He kicked another from long range in the final term to finish with three for the match and cap off an outstanding afternoon that saw him rack up 26 disposals, including 21 contested, as well as 41 hit-outs and 10 clearances.
Taylor Garner kicked two of his own in the third, the second - a running snap over his left shoulder - bringing the Roos back to within nine points, before Nick Larkey added his first deep in time-on to further close the margin and set up the thrilling final term.
Earlier, the Demons had attempted to extend their four-point quarter-time lead by kicking long and often indiscriminately with the wind, but it was North Melbourne who managed to impact the scoreboard first, slick finishes by both Jared Polec (28 disposals and two goals) and Jack Ziebell pushing them into a seven-point lead early in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the 8,202 fans that made the trip to Blundstone Arena, much of the rest of the first half was characterised by ineffective disposal and missed targets as both outfits struggled to cope with the blustery conditions.
What was worse was that neither team was able to capitalise on the opportunities presented by repeated turnovers, until Gawn finally showed his teammates how to hit a target inside 50m when he found a leading Jayden Hunt who duly goaled to bring the Demons level again, which is where it stayed through to the long break.
Coming into the match with a four-goal cushion over Jeremy Cameron in the race for the Coleman Medal, Ben Brown was arguably the major victim of North’s battles to find any rhythm going into their forward half, the big Roo held goalless to the long break and only able to access the ball way up the field and too far from goal to impact the scoreboard.
Brown capitalised on his first real sight of goal – 11 minutes into the third quarter – with a clever checkside from deep in the right forward pocket and added a second in the final term to give him a six-goal advantage over Cameron who faces the Suns on Saturday evening.
Retiring North Melbourne full-back Thompson made his way onto the highlight reel early in the first term, but it was as a stepladder for the high-flying Fritsch who soared to take a screamer and kicked the first of his two opening term goals from close range.
North Melbourne: Jamie Macmillan seemed to cop an accidental hit to the head as he landed from a marking contest late in the game, and was ruled out in the last quarter.
Melbourne: The Demons appeared to get through the game unscathed.
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.4 5.4 10.9 13.10 (88)
MELBOURNE 4.2 5.4 11.4 12.11 (83)
North Melbourne: Ziebell 2, polec 2, Garner 2, Brown 2, Higgins 2, Larkey, Williams, Wood
Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Gawn 3, Melksham 2, Hunt, Neal-Bullen, C.Wagner, Jones
North Melbourne: Higgins, Polec, Dumont, Atley, Durdin
Melbourne: Gawn, Oliver, Harmes, Fritsch, Frost
North Melbourne: Macmillan (head)
Umpires: Deboy, Gavine, Mollison
Official crowd: 8,202 at Blundstone Arena