Ross Lyon at centre of St Kilda strife amid 'wasted year' criticism

The Saints' season is slipping, and Ross Lyon has found himself at the centre of criticism, on and off the field.

Ross Lyon and the St Kilda Saints.
Ross Lyon has come under heavy criticism as St Kilda's finals hopes look to be slipping away amid a losing streak in the second half of the season. Pictures: Getty Images

As St Kilda's AFL season risks going off the rails for a second straight season, it would seem the Saints' troubles may not be limited to their on-field struggles. Having lost five of their last six games, the Saints are in the midst of a torrid run of form similar to that which looked to have derailed Carlton's finals aspirations earlier this season, before the Blues ripped off a four-game winning streak to revive their chances.

Their only victory in the last six games came against the West Coast Eagles, in far from convincing fashion, with both players and head coach Ross Lyon coming under fire for the drastic drop in form. They risk a repeat of their memorable fade-out in 2022, in which they collapsed from an 8-3 record and a brief top-four position before missing the finals entirely, leading to the controversial sacking of then coach Brett Ratten and the recruitment of Lyon in his place.

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Lyon coached St Kilda to two grand finals and was lured out of retirement to rejoin the club soon after Ratten was dismissed, but after some promising early returns in 2023, the veteran coach as come under fire and reportedly butted heads with Saints CEO Simon Lethlean. AFL reporter Caroline Wilson reported on Monday night that Lethlean had denied reports of a rift, but claimed her sources had indicated otherwise.

It comes after an unsparing assessment of St Kilda's finals hopes from Lyon in the wake of their 26-point loss to the Gold Coast Suns last weekend. The Saints currently boast a 9-8 record, with Lyon claiming they didn't deserve a finals spot based on their current form.

“I asked him how his relationship was with Ross Lyon, because I’d heard it wasn’t great, and Simon said that was not correct,” Wilson said.“That speculation I was hearing pretty strongly — that the coach and the CEO maybe weren’t as coach as they should’ve been — which is of a great concern if it’s right. But Simon Lethlean has denied it, so I have to take him at his word.”

While Wilson's focus was on the reported off-field drama, former AFL player Kane Cornes was scathing of St Kilda's form on it. He said they risked having a 'wasted year' if they couldn't turn things around starting against North Melbourne this weekend.

Cornes said there was no doubt the Saints had expected to make some serious improvement under Lyon this season, and while there had been some promising signs earlier in the season, the regression of late was a major concern.

"It's been a wasted year in essence," Cornes told Footy Classified. "You could mount the case that they are worse this year on some metrics, their struggle to score has been well documented.

"I think they expected improvement. Ross Lyon is starting to release the situation he is in and how much is needed to fix it."

Saints hopeful Max King could return this season

It comes as star forward Max King could return from a shoulder injury in just four weeks, after the Saints feared the spearhead's season was over. King had an arthroscope on his troublesome shoulder but will avoid undergoing a reconstruction.

Lyon said last week the 23-year-old was "done for the year" after re-injuring his shoulder in the opening seconds of the Saints' loss to Melbourne. "A little bit of water to flow under the bridge, but (the updated diagnosis on King) buoyed the group so we'll push for the four-to-five week mark," Lyon said.

St Kilda players walk off the ground.
St Kilda's season is slipping away, compounded by the loss of key forward Max King to injury. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images) (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

King missed the first nine games of the season after hurting his shoulder during the pre-season. The right-footer then returned in dominant fashion with 13 goals in his first four games back, but King's output dramatically diminished since.

St Kilda football boss David Misson said they would not take any risks with their prized goal-kicker.

"It won't be a reconstruction. It will be a Latarjet procedure, which is pretty common for people who have already had a traditional reconstruction and that's failed," Misson said. "That's what has happened with Max. That will happen whenever our season finishes."

With AAP

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