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Analysis: Tall Pies do the trick

Ben Reid kicked three goals after being recalled to the AFL side - Collingwood Magpies
Ben Reid kicked three goals after being recalled to the AFL side

Not many first-year players instantly alter the way their team attacks.

For Collingwood, Jaidyn Stephenson was the exception.

However, the young Pie's 10-match suspension for betting on AFL matches has forced his club into another reshuffle inside 50 – this one not as welcome as the change he affected when he was recruited to the club with pick No.6 in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft.

While the popular opinion had suggested Josh Daicos would claim Stephenson's place in the side, offering the Pies the most like-for-like switch, the club's match committee instead opted for Ben Reid and a three-pronged tall forward line that it had long neglected.

Reid's inclusion alongside Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek – as well as Jordan De Goey, who plays above his 188cm frame – might have been decided in large part by the opposition.

The Western Bulldogs have an undersized backline and last week struggled against the contested marking of Carlton key forward Charlie Curnow, who kicked seven goals.

Regardless, Sunday's nine-point victory – while rather unconvincing – would have given Collingwood's coaching department reason to be optimistic for the future.

From the outset, Nathan Buckley would have liked what he saw.

From consecutive deep entries within the space of around 60 seconds of each other, the presence of Cox and then Reid forced their nervous opponents to panic.

First, it was Easton Wood and a shove to the back of Cox. Then, it was Jackson Trengove overcommitting upon sensing Reid running into prime position to mark.

Both times, it ended in goals.

Reid crashing another pack moments later, causing a spillage that Tom Phillips quickly swept up, resulted in Collingwood's fourth consecutive major to start the match.

From there, it stuttered and spluttered.

Reid underwent medical treatment for a cut head and missed game time on either side of the first change, with his prolonged period off the field causing the Pies to lose shape in their forward line amid a second quarter where the side could manage just one goal.

Ben Reid copped a knee to the back of his head. Picture: AFL Photos

But this was never going to be a walk in the park. Despite being only a second-year player with just 38 games under his belt, Stephenson is Collingwood's second leading goalkicker during his time at the club and ranks sixth in the AFL for goal assists this season.

His creativity and dynamism make him one of the competition's most dangerous goal threats, while his elite speed adds to a skillset that is quickly becoming complete.

But without him, Collingwood isn't a side that lacks those attributes. While it does lose some vigour without Stephenson, it's not drained of its excitement entirely.

De Goey threatened to take the game away from the Western Bulldogs with a pair of breathtaking goals on either side of half-time. The first was a dribbler on his right foot from deep inside the pocket, the second was a snap on his left foot after a nice sidestep.

While he sent a number of other opportunities awry, all crafted via his incredible skill and instinct, his performance was still a demonstration of his rare and precocious talent.

Jamie Elliott's imminent return from a hamstring injury should also soften the blow of losing Stephenson for the remainder of the home and away season. He is bound to give Collingwood another dual threat who can both mark and crumb in the forward line.

Then you add the tall timber. While it might have lost some functionality throughout the scrappy middle stages of the game, the trio of key position prospects did impact again.

Reid's contested marking close to goal was a particularly important facet of the game, as he finished with three goals from 14 disposals and five grabs in a welcome return to form. Cox and Mihocek also led strongly and marked cleanly higher up the field.

Together, the three talls and De Goey finished with an important haul of eight majors.

The zippiness of the 'Swoop Squad' will undoubtedly wreak havoc again in September. But for now, this taller iteration of Collingwood's forward line will work just as effectively.