WFL - Ararat Rats' joint-coach David Hosking is hoping Saturday's narrow one point loss to the Warrack Eagles is the wake-up call his team needs to get its Wimmera Football League season back on track.
After starting the year with four straight wins, the Rats have now dropped their last two matches and have slipped to third on the ladder with Minyip/Murtoa, Horsham Saints and Dimboola nipping at their heels.
Hosking said the 11.8 (74) to 11.9 (75) defeat at the hands of the Eagles came down to a lack of defensive effort from his side.
"We have learnt some pretty painful lessons over the last few games," he said.
"The match on Saturday was lost in the first half in the midfield. They set up to hurt us on the turnover and they executed that very well."
Compounding Ararat's woes was the loss of arguably its two most in-form players, with Jake Williamson (hamstring) and Dan Mendes (heavy collision) both sidelined before halftime.
Hosking said the injuries caused a drop in rotations which made it difficult for the Rats to run out the match, but denied it was the absence of Williamson and Mendes that cost the home side victory.
"Those two are interleague representatives, they are out of the top draw so to lose them did hurt us, but I have got to be honest I think that hurt us more in the second half, because we were getting beaten while they were out on the ground anyway," he said.
"How bad Jake's hamstring is, we don't know. He will definitely miss this week, but after that I'm not sure. He'll have to get a scan this week to determine the extent.
"Dan was cleared of any damage to his eye socket and cheekbone, but he had a reasonable cut to his nose, and while it isn't broken there is suspected cartilage damage."
It was a hot footy early in the match at Alexandra Oval, with Jacob Bates opening Ararat's account at the nine minute mark with an opportunistic goal from a contest.
Hosking said Beau Cosson's head-to-head match-up with former Rat Ben Harrison was 'a classic footy battle', and it was Cosson who helped keep the Rats in the contest with three majors of his own to halftime.
Peter Thompson was also an imposing presence in the back half, but the run of Warrack's onballers including Clayton Hinkley and Jake Peters saw the Eagles take a 17-point buffer into the main break.
Hosking said the match should have been out of the Rats' reach by halftime.
"We were lucky to still be in the game," he said.
"I thought our defence was holding up pretty well and coped with the heavy traffic, but along with the midfield our forwards were probably down a little bit too and we struggled at ground level there.
“We only had five scoring shots, so that tells you that they weren’t getting a lot of it, although I think it was going in there often enough.”
Hosking and Andrew Louder demanded a lift in intensity in the third quarter and small forward Tyler Cronin wasted no time injecting life into the Rats, getting airborne with a strong mark which resulted in a goal and drew back the margin.
Aaron Searle and Jack Ganley helped lead the Rats’ revival, while Alan Batchelor covered the ground well and got his hands to the ball on numerous occasions.
Cosson again added to Ararat’s score, along with Matt North, to see the deficit just two points at the final change.
Hosking said the second half improvement came from the midfield’s defensive effort which started to stop the Eagles’ rebound, while Liam Cavanagh was effective at centre half-forward.
Consecutive goals to North within the first five minutes of the fourth quarter gifted the Rats the lead for the first time since the opening term.
The team held sway by as much as 10 points as the match hit red time, but two quick goals saw Warrack edge its nose back in front and it was able to frantically hold on as the final siren sounded.
Hosking said he was disappointed in the team’s performance in the fourth quarter.
“We shouldn’t have let it happen,” he said.
“I don’t know what you put the first half down to, there were plenty of blokes whose heads weren’t in the game and were going through the motions.
“Then to everyone’s credit they got themselves going and back in the game, but to let it slip in the last quarter — good football teams just don’t let that happen.
“The ones that I thought stood up Saturday were blokes like Fergy (Brayden Ferguson), James Hosking, I thought Northy (Matt North) had a bit of a crack in the second half, (Brendon) Lovell as well.
“Those blokes were pretty solid and did some really good work, but they were seriously let down by a midfield that didn’t react quick enough to what was happening.
“Now we’ve got to play Dimboola at Dimboola and they are coming good.
“We have to get better defensively and we have to win — simple as that.”