Deep dive: What is holding Collingwood’s struggling forward line back?

Collingwood hit its clash with Essendon as flag favourites. But yet another forward line cold streak has serious questions being asked about the attacking end of the ground. Are the Magpies not as good as we thought they were?

Is this how much Collingwood misses Jeremy Howe and Steele Sidebottom?

Or are the Magpies just not as good as the rest of the competition thought they were?

It may be a combination of the two as the team that went into Round 5 as premiership favourites turned a blistering first 15 minutes into a frustrating 15-point loss to old rivals Essendon on a damp and dismal night.

The Magpies didn’t appear to adapt to the wet and wild conditions on Friday night, just as what was the case in last year’s preliminary final against the Giants.

They paid the price.

After a week from hell where the Magpies lost their best defender potentially for the season, and their vice captain copped a four-game ban for a protocol brain fade, Nathan Buckley has plenty of headaches as he prepares for a two-state hub in New South Wales and Western Australia, starting on Monday.

THE COX CONUNDRUM

Whenever Mason Cox is trending on social media in the hours after a match, it can either be very good or very bad.

On this occasion, it was most definitely the latter.

Cox had only two disposals on Friday night. While the conditions were hardly conductive to a man of his size, and while he wasn’t Robinson Crusoe in terms of lack of impact in the Magpies’ attack, even his coach was disappointed with his output.

“He was one of a few who really struggled to have a contribution,” Buckley said. “He is not on his own. Big fellows can still be effective in slippery conditions because they can provide an aerial target and they can provide a beacon.

“Even though Coxy didn’t get a lot of it, he was pretty important for us in that last quarter as a target for us.”

He didn’t play in Rounds 2 and 3 – the Magpies used Darcy Cameron – and the pressure will be on Cox to keep his spot in the Magpies’ side unless he can get a spike in performance.

Mason Cox struggled on Friday night. Picture: Getty Images
Mason Cox struggled on Friday night.
Jake Stringer applies a big tackle on Jamie Elliott.
Jake Stringer applies a big tackle on Jamie Elliott.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER FORWARDS?

Cox wasn’t the only forward who struggled for the Magpies.

In fact, Nathan Buckley’s chief concern from Friday night would have been how barren his forward line looked for all but the first 15 minutes of the game.

Jamie Elliott and Brody Mihocek struggled to impose themselves on the game which featured extraordinary momentum swings.

Collingwood kicked the first three goals; Essendon scored the next eight as the Magpies’ forward line turned as frigid as the arctic breeze sweeping across the empty MCG.

Then when the game looked over, the Magpies conjured up four goals in succession that took them from a 28-point deficit early in the final term back to three points with nine minutes remaining.

ONE QUARTER OUTSTANDING, THREE QUARTERS …?

HE’S Collingwood’s first-quarter specialist.

Jaidyn Stephenson again started on fire against the Bombers, but was quickly extinguished.

Wearing long sleeves, Stephenson kicked the first two goals of the game within three minutes of each other to get the Magpies off to a flier.

But at half-time, Collingwood fans could have been forgiven for questioning if he had gone home.

Stephenson didn’t touch the ball from the 12-minute-mark of the first term until the main break.

His second half was a little better, logging nine disposals and a final-quarter goal to finish the match with three majors.

But for much of the night, the livewire forward was kept quiet by Essendon’s Mason Redman.

Fast starts is something Stephenson is becoming known for.

Since the start of 2019, he has kicked 16 of his 31 goals in the opening quarters of matches.

The Pies would just like a little bit more out of him in the other three quarters.

DID JORDY’S MIDFIELD MOVE COVER FOR STEELE?

STEELE Sidebottom’s suspension thrust De Goey into the midfield and it was a solid but not spectacular performance from the regular forward.

De Goey spoke before the game about a plan to play more midfield time to “prove my worth” while Sidebottom was out of the team.

“I think I’ve limited myself over the years not having the best tank and having injury-riddled pre-seasons but this year I’ve had a really good pre-season so for me the tank’s there, it’s just about performing at the level and taking the opportunities when I have them,” De Goey told Channel 7 before the match.

Playing most of the game as an onballer, 17 of De Goey’s 21 disposals came between the arcs.

He also had two clearances, four score involvements and 450 metres gained.

It was something to build on from a player who had started the season a little out of form in more of a forward role and has kicked just 2.8 from his five matches.

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Just on Sidebottom, Essendon couldn’t have been happier to enter the game without a silky skilled player who has provided his fair share of pain over the years.

Sidebottom has polled more Brownlow Medal votes (14) against the Bombers than any other side, including three BOGs from his past seven games against them.

Buckley said he was confident the Sidebottom suspension had “nought” to do with Collingwood’s flat performance.

“I’d say (it had) nought (influence on the team),” he said. “In the end there’s a fair bit happening in the environment and we’ve been pretty good at drawing the line between what happens during the week or what happens off field and then what we do on field.

“There’s no excuses from our behalf in regards to that. We just weren’t good enough tonight.”

Nathan Buckley would have been concerned by the performance of his players.
Nathan Buckley would have been concerned by the performance of his players.

CAN AN EXTENDED ROAD TRIP HELP THE PIES?

Collingwood has always prided itself on the way its interstate trips have galvanise the group, but spending up to five weeks away from home will be a different sort of challenge as the Magpies look to get their mojo back after successive losses.

The Magpies are 10-6 on the road since 2017, but will now face an extended period interstate, with all Victorian clubs vacating the state.

Collingwood officials are confident all players will be making the journey, with the family members of some players expected to make the trip to NSW and WA.

“I think we will look at it as an opportunity to get around each other and to come back to each other in some shape or form,” coach Nathan Buckley said.

“We are a club that has built our on-field persona through connection and a real genuine care and love and appreciation for one another, and it has probably been a little bit harder in this environment to tip into that.

“We think we have done it pretty well … it is not going to be the only thing that assists us when we spend time together, but it is not going to hurt either.”

Collingwood will play Hawthorn at Giants Stadium on Friday night, while Essendon will be further north at Metricon Stadium taking on North Melbourne next Saturday night.

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