St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs entered Friday night’s clash each needing the win but only one team turned up ready to play.

The Western Bulldogs have kept their finals hopes alive with a much-needed 28-point victory against an insipid St Kilda outfit in what was a virtual elimination final at Marvel Stadium on Friday night.

The stakes were huge, but only one team rocked up for the fight, with the Bulldogs seemingly the sole combatants who got the memo about just how important this match was to both teams’ September ambitions.

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Straight off the bat, with so much on the line, St Kilda inexplicably looked like a deflated and beaten team bereft of intensity and effort as the Bulldogs helped themselves to the first seven goals, putting the game to bed by the second quarter.

After trailing by 52 points late in the third term, the Saints woke up in the final quarter, trimming the deficit to 22. But it amounted to nothing more than a cruel tease for their long-suffering fans and, fittingly, Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli put the full stop on the contest, capping off his best-on-ground performance with a huge pack mark and goal late.

Bontempelli played his best game of the season, helping himself to 34 disposals (17 contested), 11 marks, five clearances and 12 score involvements, including three goal assists and two goals. His counterpart Tom Liberatore was a dominant force at the stoppages, racking a game-high 11 clearances to go with 31 touches (16 contested).

Exacerbating the Saints’ defeat was the loss of Paddy Ryder to a calf injury, which could sideline him for multiple weeks.

In the first three quarters, the Saints were let down badly by safe, stagnant ball movement and terrible foot skills which led to a plethora of turnovers. The Bulldogs weren’t even playing overly brilliant footy, but the Saints largely did their job for them, gifting them a host of easy goals as a result of their woeful play.

Before they knew it, St Kilda were down by 44 points halfway through the second term, and it was lights out.

Accused of being “sub-AFL standard” by Fox Footy’s David King at half time, the Saints failed to lift early in the third term.

Ugle-Hagan added his third goal before Riley Garcia got on the scoreboard to push the lead out to 48 points.

“This is really ugly, bordering on putrid,” Seven’s Brian Taylor said. “It’s bruise-free football.”

At halftime, Leigh Montagna called it “their worst performance of the year so far”, while other greats labelled them “mind-blowingly poor” and ”atrocious”.

The gulf in class between the two teams was cavernous as the likes of Bontempelli and Bailey Dale (30 disposals) used the ball with sublime precision, something the Saints were crying out for, but were badly lacking.

For much of the night, St Kilda over-possessed the ball and went nowhere, as evidenced by their huge lead in marks (158-100) and their advantage in disposals (399-377). But they were belted in the clearances 41-21 and, oddly, refused to take on the Bulldogs’ 12th-ranked defence and put them under any meaningful pressure prior to three-quarter time.

The 13.6 (84) to 7.14 (56) result saw the Dogs move to ninth spot, leapfrogging the Saints who continue to drop down the ladder like a stone, having now lost five of their last six games after sitting pretty inside the top four at the halfway mark of the season.

St Kilda will probably have to win three of their last five games to make the finals and with Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney in their run home, their margin for error has shrunk considerably.

But the Bulldogs certainly aren’t out of the woods in their ambition to qualify for the top eight. They likely needing another three wins as well, and face top three teams Melbourne, Geelong and Fremantle in the next three weeks.

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