Oliver braces for tags in Demons’ AFL finals fight

Shayne Hope |

Simon Goodwin expects Clayton Oliver to continue attracting tight tags as Melbourne attempt to build an AFL finals case without injured star Christian Petracca.

Oliver was blanketed in the Demons’ narrow escape against North Melbourne on Saturday night, restricted to just 14 disposals by stopper Will Phillips in an 11.4 (70) to 10.7 (67) win at the MCG.

It was the equal second-lowest tally of the star ball-winner’s 176-game career.

Oliver has been below his best this season after a disrupted preparation, and faces further hurdles as the most logical target for opposition taggers with Petracca sidelined.

“It probably ends up coming down to the result in the end, what’s going to get you the result,” Goodwin said when asked if he thought rival coaches would keep sending their negators to Oliver.

“We’ll see what the opposition do. I’m sure they will.”

Oliver was repeatedly frustrated by the close attention from Phillips, who shadowed his opponent throughout the night after going with Collingwood star Nick Daicos for two quarters the previous week.

In return, Phillips found himself handballing under close attention from Oliver at the MCG. (Daniel Pockett/AAP PHOTOS)

“He shut Clayton out of the game for the majority of the night,” Goodwin said.

“Clayton kept working through it and he’ll continue to work through it.

“Clayton’s had a lot of attention for a long time. The young fella did a good job on him.”

Jack Viney starred for Melbourne with 25 disposals, 19 contested possessions and 12 clearances, and Trent Rivers moved into the void left by Petracca.

Rivers finished with 21 touches and even produced a Petracca-like goal during the second quarter, bursting past two opponents and side-stepping another before finishing on the run from 50 metres.

“We found something with Trent Rivers as a midfielder,” Goodwin said.

“These types of injuries to key players give you opportunities to have a look at something that’s on your list and something that’s in your method.

“We’re really rapt with how he went.”

The manner of Melbourne’s victory was unconvincing, but was important nonetheless after four losses from their previous five games before the bye.

It gave them an 8-6 record ahead of a huge test against the resurgent Brisbane Lions at the Gabba next Friday night.

“Any time you can get a win and build belief within your walls is important and tonight was an important step in that,” Goodwin said.

“We think we’ve still got a lot of footy left in us this year.

“We’ve still got a lot of optimism about where we could go and what we could do, but we need to start improving as the year goes on now.

“We’re one game post-bye, we’ve had a win, so we’ll build on that.

“It certainly wasn’t perfect but we’re proud of what we did tonight in terms of getting a result.”

Goodwin expects Christian Salem to overcome a sore knee to play against Brisbane despite being subbed out of the win over North Melbourne.

Star defender Jake Lever (knee) should also be fit to return for his first game in six weeks.