Two months ago, Footscray’s season in the Hockey Victoria men’s premier league was almost shot.
Eight unbeaten games later and a finals’ berth is back on the cards for the red hot Bulldogs.
“Our season was almost gone, but we haven’t lost a game in the last eight weeks,” Bulldogs coach Phil Merriman said.
“The destiny is still in our hands because we’ve got a game in hand as opposed to the other teams around our area on the ladder.
“If we keep playing the way we’re playing and keep following our process, which has been the key word for the past eight weeks, not worrying too much about the results or who we’re coming up against and just worrying about our process, we could be playing finals.”
Footscray’s form line is as good as any in the competition since June 7.
The Bulldogs were staring down the barrel with just two wins and six losses after eight games. Their next eight games have yielded five wins, three draws and no losses to sit just one point outside the top eight. Two of those draws came against the runaway top two, including a 2-2 tie with Greensborough at the Footscray Hockey Centre on Saturday.
A number of factors led to Footscray’s turn around in form, not least Merriman swallowing his pride and accepting his game plan was not being fully grasped by a young team.
Merriman admitted that he arrived in his first year with “some bold plans as far as the game plan”, but decided it needed simplifying.
“We have slowly introduced some of those things I wanted to bring in earlier on, but it will be a slow burn,” Merriman said.
“It is a really young group and we’ve just got to be patient.”
The addition of import Rufus McNaught-Barrington, who has averaged a goal a game in four appearances, has been huge for Footscray.
It’s also no coincidence that Footscray’s results have improved since defender Mitch Braiden returned. He has organised the Bulldogs defence, along with captain Sam McIntosh.
The pick of the Bulldogs in Saturday’s draw with Greensborough was midfielder Oscar Allan.
“He had a huge impact against a team that has Australian representatives across most lines,” Merriman said.
“He had to come up against Tim Cross and Daniel Mirecki, who have both played for Australia, and was outstanding.”
Meanwhile, Altona remains fifth on the ladder, following an entertaining 3-3 home draw with sixth-placed Southern United. The Seagulls are in action tomorrow night against Melbourne University at the Greensborough Hockey Centre from 8.30pm.
In women’s premier league, Footscray had a 2-2 draw at home against Greensborough on Saturday. Georgia Hopkins and Jade Versteegen were the goalscorers for the Bulldogs, who are five points clear in the eight.
Altona moved further clear of the relegation zone with a 4-1 mauling of Southern United at home. The Seagulls will have mid-week hockey against Melbourne University at the Greensborough Hockey Centre tomorrow at 7pm.