Despite leading late in the final term, the Zebras couldn’t hold on and were defeated by the Sydney Swans VFL side by four points on Friday afternoon.
Photography: Anthony Vella
The Zebras showed spirit in blustery conditions at Tramway Oval to fight back into the game after a slow start, but a late goal from Sydney proved to be the difference in the Round 12 Smithy’s VFL clash.
Tom Highmore was excellent in defence and started numerous springboard attacks for Sandringham – amassing game high disposals (28) and marks (13).
Other notable performances came from Darby Hipwell (24 disposals, five tackles and nine clearances), Ben Paton (27 disposals and a game high 13 handballs) and Vince Zagari (17 disposals and two goals).
After recovering from a stress fracture in his back, Saints-listed Olli Hotton made his debut for the Zebras and started very brightly sticking a strong tackle and winning a holding-the-ball free kick within the first two minutes. Hotton showed promising signs across the half-forward line, getting involved in scoring chains and finishing with 14 disposals.
Sandringham’s first goal of the game came from Tomoya Owens as he cooly slotted a set shot after a brilliant pass from ruckman Tom Campbell. This stopped Sydney’s run of three goals to start the match.
With the Zebras building momentum, forward Tim Membrey won a crucial one-on-one contest on the wing which allowed the Zebras to move the ball up the field. From the resulting forward-50 stoppage Sam Latreille won the clearance and converted his snap from the pocket.
Noah Gown, Sandringham’s leading goalkicker for the 2023 season with 14 majors, showed his versatility starting in the midfield as he went on to collect 22 disposals, six tackles and a team high seven inside-50s. Gown also delivered a goal assist for tall forward Isaac Keeler, who, in a near carbon copy of his set-shot from the pocket against Coburg Lions last time out, went back and finished for the Zebras' third goal of the match.
Neither side benefited from gusts which blew directly across the ground for the entire match, but the conditions made it difficult to deliver pinpoint passes and convert chances. This was the case for the Zebras in the first half as they had 30 more disposals and registered 27 inside-50s compared to Sydney’s 22, but couldn’t link up effectively and trailed the Swans by 14 points at half-time.
The Zebras started the second half strongly as Highmore’s kick-in went straight down the ground and a chain of handballs and kicks ended up with Zagari for the coast-to-coast goal.
Highmore’s very next kick-in almost provided the same result but just broke down at the end. Sandringham took advantage of the resulting stoppage as Matt Harms won a free kick and converted his first goal for season 2023 – adding to the four goals he kicked on debut against Williamstown in Round 22 last year.
The Zebras, looking to apply more pressure, forced a forward half interception and Zagari kicked his second for the game. Sandringham Captain Anthony Seaton then forced another front half turnover which Zagari pounced on and his hooked kick found Membrey in the pocket. Membrey went back and slotted a tough shot – his first goal for the afternoon.
From the next centre bounce Gown took on two tacklers and shot the handball out to Hipwell who streamed out of the centre and hit up a leading Ollie Lowe. The Zebras forward kicked the goal from just inside 50 and brought the Zebras within a kick. Two late goals from Sydney saw the deficit increase to 16 points heading into the final break.
Cooper Sharman foreshadowed a strong final term as he outpointed his opponent and plucked the ball out of the air to take his first of four contested marks for the quarter.
Sandringham looked to bring the attack to Sydney as Hotton controlled an awkwardly bouncing ball and gave the handpass to Gown whose kick was marked by Max Heath. From a tight angle Heath converted the first goal of the final term.
In the Zebras' play of the day Jack Peris and Heath worked the ball very close to the boundary line and Heath’s quick kick was pounced upon by Peris who instantaneously fired the handball to Blake Watson for the finish.
From the resulting centre clearance, Gown sold candy to the Swans' player and hit Membrey on a searching lead. Membrey calmly slotted the goal to level the scores.
The Zebras lead grew to three points as quick shots from Watson, Latreille and Peris narrowly missed, but as the seconds ticked down, the Swans were able to kick the winning goal and break Sandringham hearts.
Sandringham will look to get a win when they return to Victoria to battle it out against Richmond on Saturday 17 June at the Swinburne Centre.
Final Score: Sandringham Zebras 11.10 (76) defeated by Sydney Swans 12.7 (79)
Goals: T. Membrey (2), V. Zagari (2), M. Harms, M. Heath, I. Keeler, S. Latreille, O. Lowe, T. Owens, B. Watson