In the tightest of AFL seasons, there's no place like home | photos

In an AFL season as tight as this, injuries, a little luck, even umpiring decisions are making a difference. But not as profoundly as a perennial the influence of which seems only to have increased. Venues.

Preparation, game style and tactics are more sophisticated than ever. But in 2017, it seems no amount of forensic attention to detail can reduce the disadvantage of an unfamiliar ground and a hostile crowd.

Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong have won a collective 25 and lost just eight games between them this season. Only one of those defeats, the Crows' 41-point loss against Melbourne in round eight, has come on home turf.

Round 11 only underlined how big a factor is "the road" this season, starting on Thursday night, when Hawthorn recorded their worst first half in history at Adelaide Oval.

Adelaide, despite not having won at Geelong since 2003, still went into Friday night's clash favourites. The Crows barely uttered a squeak, giving the Cats their 65th win at Simonds Stadium in their last 71 appearances.

It's hard to think of a home ground advantage that pronounced in any sport in the world, let alone our own competition. And it's certainly been pivotal in turning the Cats' form around.

Geelong went into round nine having lost three games in a row to teams all outside the top eight. Three from three against sides in the top eight since at the Cattery have played them back into third, just a game behind the top-placed Giants.

West Coast, meanwhile, continue to enshrine their "flat track bully" status after in the circumstances a horrendous away loss to Gold Coast

At 6-5, the Eagles are still inside the eight. But as a contender, it's in name only. Sure, they've at least won two of their six road trips to date. But two more losses on the MCG have made it five losses from six there since their 2015 grand final day capitulation.

The same serial underperformers on the road continue to offend. With Josh Kennedy out, West Coast were counting on Mark LeCras, Jack Darling and Josh Hill to step up. LeCras finished goalless and with just 10 disposals, Darling goalless with eight touches, Hill with 13 and two cheap late goals.

The Eagles have four of the next five games at home. But the virtual asterisk against their name any time they head anywhere near an airport these days isn't going away any time soon after Saturday's effort.

Adelaide coach Don Pyke might be pondering that, as well as his own time as an Eagle this week, too. He was part of two West Coast flags under Mick Malthouse when in a pre-fully professional era, travel was supposedly a bigger factor than now. The Eagles beat down that bogy with consistent performances on the road. The sort of resilience his Crows need to show now.

Disturbingly for Pyke, Rory Sloane is starting to become too big a barometer of the Crows' fortunes. In their three defeats, he's been effectively stymied by first North Melbourne's Sam Gibson, then Melbourne's Bernie Vince and on Friday night, Geelong's Scott Selwood.

But two of those losses also were in Hobart and at the Cattery. In Tasmania, Adelaide were caught horrendously flat-footed and were never a chance after North slammed on 10 goals to nothing in the first term. On Friday, they were five goals down and in big trouble by half-time.

And on either occasion, Sloane has had little support. Fellow midfielders Rory Atkins, David Mackay and Charlie Cameron have all recorded less than their season average disposals in both road defeats, as did Richard Douglas and both Crouches in one of those losses. Indeed, against the Cats, including Sloane, seven Adelaide midfielders had possession counts well below what they've enjoyed on a week-to-week basis this season.

The Crows have now had 35 games under Pyke. They've won 16 of 19 at Adelaide Oval, or 84.2 per cent. On the road, it's nine out of 16, or just 56.25 per cent. That's a sizeable discrepancy.

What does it all mean? Well, increasingly, that for Adelaide to translate some tremendous form into something more substantial, a top-two finish and consequent home finals might be an essential part of the equation.

It means even the ominous looking GWS could be greatly assisted by finals at Spotless Stadium, and that having to win at the MCG, where they've triumphed just once in 10 attempts and by grand final day this season could have played there only twice in 2½ years, might be a bigger obstacle than some considered.

It means that Geelong, despite having lost the only final they hosted in 2013, will continue to push hard for another Simonds Stadium final should they be drawn to play an interstate club.

And it means that West Coast, while the Eagles continue to possess the softest underbelly of any team with a talented list, can be effectively scotched from any flag talk until the day they decide to play the grand final at Domain Stadium.

The Age