(Clockwise from left): Lachie Neale, Connor Rozee, Nick Daicos and Max Gawn. Pictures: AFL Photos

FOLLOWING Saturday night's upset loss to Gold Coast, Brisbane coach Chris Fagan said he hadn't spoken about finishing in the top two – but he's surely thought about it.

The race for the all-important second position – assuming Collingwood keeps its buffer at the top – has been joined in earnest by Melbourne, which has won its past four matches.

The Demons (fourth), Lions (third) and Port Adelaide (second) are all separated by a game as they race to host a qualifying final.

And no matter what any coach or club says, hosting that final in week one is a big deal.

In the past 10 years, teams have a 10-3 winning record when they host a team in a qualifying final that has had to travel interstate.

In saying that, two of the teams vying for second spot have lost at home in recent years, with Sydney toppling Melbourne at the MCG last September, and Brisbane losing its first final under Chris Fagan against Richmond at the Gabba in 2019.

Tom Papley celebrates a goal for Sydney against Melbourne in the 2022 qualifying final. Picture: Getty Images

Despite this, the numbers are overwhelming.

So, what type of draw do the three combatants have over the final four rounds and how important is finishing second?

Let's start with Brisbane.

The Lions travel to Perth to play Fremantle, host Adelaide, face Collingwood at Marvel Stadium in a round 23 Friday night blockbuster, and finish with St Kilda at the Gabba.

The Lions are a perfect nine from nine at the Gabba this season, while their record at the MCG in recent years has been poor.

Since becoming competitive in 2019, Brisbane has won once from nine starts there, although is playing the ground significantly better now, beating the Demons in a semi-final last year and running them within a point in round 18.

Zac Bailey celebrates with Jarrod Berry during the 2022 Semi Final match between Melbourne and Brisbane at the MCG, September 9, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

In the same period at Adelaide Oval, it has a 3-3 record, losing against both Port and Adelaide in 2023.

Port finishes its season with a trip to GMHBA Stadium to face Geelong, hosts Greater Western Sydney, travels to Fremantle and welcomes Richmond in the final round.

It is 8-2 at home this year and has the memory of beating Geelong in week one of the finals in both 2020 and 2021.

Zak Butters celebrates a goal during round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Ken Hinkley's team has not won against Brisbane at the Gabba since 2017, losing its past four matches there, while it is a far more respectable 5-5 at the MCG since 2019.

And now for the fast-finishing Demons.

Simon Goodwin's team would appear to have the most favourable draw on paper – for whatever that's worth following round 20 – with matches against North Melbourne (away), Carlton and Hawthorn at the MCG in successive weeks, followed by a trip to Sydney to face the Swans in the final round.

The 2021 premiers lost to Port at Adelaide Oval earlier this year by four points, but have no fears at the venue, going 5-2 there over the past five seasons, including two wins over Port.

They also have a 1-2 record against the Lions at the Gabba since 2019, thrashing the hosts there in the final round of last season to lock in their top-four spot.

There's a lot to play out for these three teams in the final month, but make no mistake, finishing second gives them the best chance for a direct path to a preliminary final – one they would host with a first-up triumph.