Saints to face under-fire Bulldogs in crucial AFL clash

Even from the other side of town, St Kilda are aware of the noise around the Western Bulldogs.

The two finals aspirants will meet at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night, both sitting at 2-3 and at a crucial early juncture of the AFL season.

But the Bulldogs, and coach Luke Beveridge, are particularly under the pump after a deflating loss to Essendon.

Criticism has come for Beveridge over perceived mixed messages regarding whether the Bulldogs are contending or rebuilding - he says the former.

"It's like us - is it half-full or half-empty? We're both around the mark," St Kilda coach Ross Lyon said this week.

Coach Ross Lyon
Coach Ross Lyon and his St Kilda side are facing a crunch game against the Western Bulldogs.

"I'm not really here to talk about the Bulldogs, but I do hear the noise ... they're getting terrorised."

Beveridge dismissed the suggestion there was disharmony or discontent among his players, and said the Bulldogs still considered themselves in contention.

He indicated a response against St Kilda would partly come down to tactical tweaks and partly to seeking an emotional edge, especially after failing to deal with Essendon's pressure.

"It's a combination of both," Beveridge said.

"There'll need to be some acknowledgement of where St Kilda's strengths are and making sure that we mitigate the influence of some of their individuals. There'll be a tactical battle going on.

"But there'll be some emotion driving performance - you expect that every week, and the team cohesion and the spirit within the team.

"What happens is sort of chicken or egg stuff with that spirit and that intensity and that desire.

"We've been really good in the contest and last week we probably lowered our colours, and what tends to happen, as far of the chicken or egg side of it, is if just one or two are off, it sort of permeates throughout the group.

"So everyone will be up and we'll look for that consistent spread across the group."

Both sides will be without key forwards, with the Saints' Max King (knee) and the Bulldogs' Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (personal reasons) unavailable.

Ugle-Hagan's absence comes with the Dogs also missing star midfielder Tom Liberatore, who is undergoing further tests after his dramatic collapse late in last week's loss to Essendon.

Tom Liberatore
Tom Liberatore's ball-winning ability and determination will be sorely missed against the Saints.

Oskar Baker has been dropped, while ruck-forward Rory Lobb, Riley Garcia and James Harmes have earnt recalls.

Beveridge indicated he wanted the rest of his midfield to step up in terms of winning contested ball without Liberatore there to claim the lion's share alongside skipper Marcus Bontempelli.

“We can’t expect Tom to do what he does week in, week out, and leverage totally off his influence in the game,” he said.

"Our better performances this year have been really even."

St Kilda have recalled veteran midfielder Zak Jones in place of King.

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