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Clarkson takes positives from Kangaroos' heartbreaker

Alastair Clarkson wanted more evidence of improvement in key areas before declaring that North Melbourne had turned a corner.

The Kangaroos coach got it - if not the premiership points - when his side's stirring late fightback fell narrowly short in an 11.4 (70) to 10.7 (67) defeat to Melbourne on Saturday night.

North won key several key statistics, including contested possession, clearances, tackles and inside-50s, and slashed a 39-point deficit by kicking the final six goals of the match.

But they couldn't find a match-winner in the final few minutes and were ultimately made to pay for earlier lapses.

"We still need to look at the reasons why we slipped that far behind in the first quarter and periods of the third," Clarkson said.

"But a lot of the statistics that we're searching for as a side ... are really, really strong.

"When you're coming up against a side like Melbourne who have been the best in that space in the last five years, we take some great positives out of that."

North Melbourne lost 11 straight games before their bye, by an average margin of 52 points.

An interstate win over West Coast and losses by less than a kick to Collingwood and the Demons since the break have given the Kangaroos hope.

"The pleasing part is at least you're in games and you're giving yourself a chance," Clarkson said.

"It's probably no surprise that we've lost to two sides that are just more experienced and have had more opportunities in those tight sort of games.

"At different stages of the last two minutes I thought Melbourne played it really well and denied us the footy.

"We still had four or five chances to take the ball forward and score, but couldn't quite get there."

Clarkson lauded Tristan Xerri for taking the fight to Melbourne ruck star Max Gawn and Jackson Archer for keeping dangerous forward Bayley Fritsch scoreless from just six disposals.

He was also pleased with Will Phillips, who backed up a good performance against Collingwood's Nick Daicos with a strong shutdown role on Demons ball-winner Clayton Oliver.

Phillips held Oliver to just 14 disposals and could be given another huge role in a clash with the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium next Saturday, with Brownlow Medal fancy Marcus Bontempelli a possible target.

"Sometimes guys just need to have some sort of role like that to find their spot in the side," Clarkson said.

"One of the greatest players this footy club's ever seen - Anthony Stevens - his first three or four years was played in that sort of role before he then learnt how to get the footy himself.

"Then the last part of his career he was the one getting tagged.

"I'm not sure if that will be the pathway for Will Phillips but certainly in terms of playing on some of these players and teaching him where to go to get the footy, it's really important for his growth and development at this point in time."