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Bombers just won't lie down

Date

AFL correspondent in South Australia

View more articles from Ashley Porter

Twin towers: Port Adelaide ruckman Matthew Lobbe and Essendon's Patrick Ryder contest a boundary throw-in.

Twin towers: Port Adelaide ruckman Matthew Lobbe and Essendon's Patrick Ryder contest a boundary throw-in. Photo: Getty Images

ESSENDON 2.4 6.8 7.12 8.14 (62) PORT ADELAIDE 1.4 2.8 4.14 7.18 (60)
Goals: Essendon: J Carlisle 2 B Goddard D Heppell D Myers J Merrett P Ambrose P Ryder. Port Adelaide: J Schulz 3 K Mitchell M White R Gray T Boak.
BEST Essendon: Dempsey, Zaharakis, Winderlich, Goddard, Ryder, Merrett. Port: Hartlett, O'Shea, R. Gray, Wines, Polec, Ebert.
Umpires: Brett Rosebury, Shane McInerney, David Harris. Official Crowd: 46,786 at Adelaide Oval.

Essendon channelled its aggression and frustration on the field with a stunning win over Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.

Unexpected outside of the club and its faithful, it was a performance full of character and endeavour - and another reminder it is not easy to shoot the Bombers down on the field either.

Time
FT
Team
PAFC
Score
7.18.60
Team
EFC
Score
8.14.62
Port Adelaide versus Essendon
View Match Statistics
Players Schulz (3.0), Gray (1.1), Mitchell (1.1), White (1.1), Boak (1.0), Wingard (0.3), Hartlett (0.2), Westhoff (0.2), Lobbe (0.1) Scorers Carlisle (2.0), Ryder (1.1), Ambrose (1.0), Goddard (1.0), Heppell (1.0), Merrett (1.0), Myers (1.0), Daniher (0.3), Chapman (0.2), Colyer (0.2), Howlett (0.1), Stanton (0.1), Zaharakis (0.1)

But it was certainly not without drama with a punch-up between onballers Paul Chapman and Robbie Gray nine minutes into the game that will be addressed by the match review panel.

It was basically a ''rematch'' between the pair after Chapman was suspended after hitting Gray in the 2012 second semi-final when playing for Geelong, and missing the preliminary final that the Cats lost to Hawthorn by five points.

This time, Gray appeared to land the first punch on Chapman, and the Essendon defender reacted swiftly and connecting three times.

After setting a hot pace two wins clear on top of the premiership ladder - and its fans already ''claiming'' the flag - Port has now lost two in succession and given its challenging run home is no certainty for a top-four finish.

Port was brave to claw its way back from a three or four goal deficit for most of the game to get within two points midway through the last quarter, only to turn the ball over and allow Dyson Heppell, who had been relatively quiet, to snare a settling goal.

The Power responded in typical fashion, but ultimately paid a heavy price for awful kicking for goal. Besides, Essendon, with the sniff of the top-eight stronger, was too pumped-up to let this one go, extending its record to five consecutive wins against Port since 2010.

It was a magnificent ending, but it certainly didn't start that way with undisciplined acts by both sides and Port ending the first quarter when its defenders allowed a kick on the siren by none other than Chapman to dribble through for a behind without any attempt to stop the ball. Ultimately the unnecessary score didn't matter, but it was another sign that Port again didn't seem focused early as expected of a finals side.

Adding to the frustration no doubt endured in both coach's boxes was the constant slipping over by players, miss-kicks and fumbling. The soggy ground played a big part, and it really got to a ''last man standing'' situation that became the telling factor.

Unlike most of this season, Port lacked fluency moving into attack. It repeatedly rushed its disposals and kicked blindly going inside-50, often finding Essendon's loose man in defence Brent Stanton or someone else by his lonesome in Port's 50-metre zone.

Port lacked its zip and excitement moving out of defence that had been its trademark going into the previous week's Showdown, largely due to Essendon's game plan and the efficiency and disciplined teamwork of its defence.

Given the slippery conditions, the ascendancy was largely settled on tackling and pressure, and it stood out most in the second term when Essendon gained control.

Missing was Port's tenacity and fearless drive forward. It seemed like it had kicked sideways or backwards more often in a half than it had all season, such was the lack of confidence under pressure. Adding to its woes, Essendon's advantage with clearances, tackles and contested possessions was significant.

The bottom line was that Port, for the second successive week, could not handle the pressure.

A telling minute was late in the second quarter when Port had a goal disallowed from a score review. The ball went downfield, and a kick from Patrick Ryder was also reviewed. This time it was deemed a goal and not touched. The decisions were based on millimetres, but instead of going into half-time just 14 points down and feeling it had salvaged something from a disappointing second term, the Power trailed by four goals and Essendon was on a high.

The third term had its highs and lows also, with Essendon hitting the post twice and Port wasting chances to edge closer, creating anguish for the loser left to ponder ''what if'''.

Essendon was lifted by its all-for-one team approach, but there were individuals that stood taller, including David Zaharakis, David Myers and Joe Daniher. Few were more inspirational when the match reached great heights in the second half than Courtenay Dempsey, especially with his bone-crunching tackles that floored Jared Polec and Matt White.

Port had a determined bunch too, particularly Hamish Hartlett and Gray.

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