Lyon defends Saints’ game style, tagger here to stay

Shayne Hope |

Marcus Windhager (l) is set to continue playing a tagger role for St Kilda.
Marcus Windhager (l) is set to continue playing a tagger role for St Kilda.

St Kilda coach Ross Lyon has defended his tactics in the face of mounting criticism while declaring his intention to continue using a tagger to blunt the AFL’s sharpest ball-winners.

Lyon’s game style has been under the blowtorch since the Saints’ posted the lowest winning score for a team led by the 57-year-old since 2010 in their victory over Gold Coast on Saturday night.

The dour affair at Marvel Stadium produced the fourth-lowest total score in the venue’s 25-year history – a combined 99 points – with Suns coach Damien Hardwick conceding it was a “terrible” and “horrific” contest.

In the aftermath, prominent commentators have attacked what they perceive to be an overly defensive style of play being fostered by Lyon.

“There’s a lot of conjecture about it, a lot of split views,” Lyon told reporters on Wednesday.

“I’m really thrilled with our contested ball, plus-20 against a great contested-ball team, defence in strong order, lots of entries, left a lot on the table.

“We felt we took Gold Coast’s game off them and we want to take Brisbane’s game off them this week.

“I haven’t got the luxury to keep looking backwards and I’m certainly not a ‘Monday’s expert’.”

Philosophically, Lyon insists he doesn’t care if games he presides over are ugly.

“No, we just want to win,” the 342-game coach said.

“At the end of the day, we want to score. We want more sizzle in.

“It’s a closed-ended question, ‘Do we care?’.

“If it was grand final day, go back to the Swans and those West Coast games (in 2005-06), I wouldn’t think that’s typical.”

St Kilda have won their last two matches to improve their season record to 5-8, but are a long shot to reach the top eight in a disappointing return following last year’s finals appearance.

“We haven’t had a great year,” Lyon said.

“We’re trying to improve all our phases and we know in the end to really challenge and win you need to be in at least the top six for attack, so we’ve got plenty of work to do.”

Lyon has used Marcus Windhager to good effect as a tagger over the past fortnight, restricting the damage caused by Gold Coast captain Touk Miller and West Coast sensation Harley Reid.

He is set to deploy Windhager in a similar role against Brisbane at the Gabba on Friday night, with Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage and Josh Dunkley the most likely targets.

“It’s like the mullet, right? Everything comes back into fashion,” Lyon said of coaches using a tagger.

“It’s back in. There was the rhetoric that you can’t run a tag and play team defence.

“Saints, Dockers, we always ran a heavy tag. Geelong had (Cameron) Ling running around. You can certainly play team defence and have a tag.”

St Kilda have picked Arie Schoenmaker to make his AFL debut against the Brisbane Lions, bolstering a back-line that needs to stop in-form tall forwards Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher.

Schoenmaker, a 194cm Tasmania product, will be a direct replacement for key defender Dougal Howard, who has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury.

The 19-year-old will be the fifth Saints debutant from last year’s draft class after being selected at No.62 overall.