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Demons hold their nerve to pip Bombers at the post

Jack Viney of the Demons beats the tackle of Paddy Ryder of the Bombers.

Jack Viney of the Demons beats the tackle of Paddy Ryder of the Bombers. Photo: Getty Images

MELBOURNE 0.3 3.3 7.6 12.6 (78) ESSENDON 2.4 5.12 8.12 10.17 (77)
Goals: Melbourne: C Pedersen 2 D Kent 2 J Frawley 2 J Watts 2 B Vince C Salem J Grimes N Jones. Essendon: D Zaharakis 4 B Goddard J Daniher P Ambrose P Chapman P Ryder Z Merrett.
BEST: Melbourne: Dunn, Howe, McDonald, Jones, Grimes, Watts, McKenzie, Viney, Kent. Essendon: Zaharakis, Goddard, Heppell, Hibberd, Carlisle, Ambrose.
Umpires: Justin Schmitt, Troy Pannell, Brendan Hosking.
Official Crowd: 44,622 at MCG.

They came to the MCG uncertain what they would see, the players and faithful alike. They came looking for a signpost, an understanding of what the events of the last week might mean for Essendon. Would they bounce, or pop?

Brendan Goddard, David Zaharakis and Michael Hibberd lead The Essendon players on to the ground. Click for more photos

AFL Round 13: Essendon v Melbourne

In a major upset at the MCG, Melbourne defeated Essendon by a point in one of the season's most memorable games. Final score: 12.6 (78) to 10.17 (77). Photo: Pat Scala

Time
FT
Team
EFC
Score
10.17.77
Team
MFC
Score
12.6.78
Essendon versus Melbourne
View Match Statistics
Players Zaharakis (4.1), Daniher (1.2), Goddard (1.2), Ambrose (1.1), Chapman (1.0), Merrett (1.0), Ryder (1.0), Bellchambers (0.3), Dempsey (0.1), Myers (0.1), Stanton (0.1), Winderlich (0.1) Scorers Frawley (2.1), Pedersen (2.1), Kent (2.0), Watts (2.0), Grimes (1.1), Jones (1.0), Salem (1.0), Vince (1.0), Dawes (0.1), Riley (0.1), Tyson (0.1)

They bounced, then popped. They rallied, then were rolled. How could it be otherwise? They fell, Melbourne rose. It was a single point but it was a point well made.

If they came hoping the game would provide a clear picture on Essendon and what they events of last week might mean for the remainder of their season they left believing that the Dons had been left in a muddle-headed fog. The 44,622 who came will have left concluding Essendon's year might end as last year's did.

David Zaharakis insists this is wrong and premature, but also could not adequately explain why it was that his team's game fell apart so dramatically as it did in the third quarter after they stretched out to a 33-point lead.

He was frustrated. Frustrated that the game was lost but now excuses would be made. The ASADA notices were not front of mind for the players when they were bustling out to be almost six goals up, neither were they when the gave up that lead, he said.

“We started playing as individuals, we don’t move the ball as a team, we start going safer than what we have been as a team ... we build a lead and then we start playing as individuals,’’ he said.

“We spoke a lot about our last kick inside 50 and that is what is hurting us. It’s a combination of the mids are putting the ball on the forwards’ head and then the forwards are not moving enough. Tonight we missed five or six from 30 metres out that is just inexcusable.’’

Of course the easy answer is also that it is easier for Zaharakis to put the matter out of his head - he has not received a notice.

“I just know the guys were up and about for a game. We just think about the footy when we get to the MCG or Etihad. It is our funnest three or four hours for the week,’’ he said. Sunday was not so much fun.

Essendon played as a side determined to go forward, to get on the front foot, but didn’t quite know how. It was attack without direction, offence without effect. They ended the game with an astonishing 69 inside 50s, dwarfing Melbourne’s 36. And lost.

Paul Little began the afternoon formally, speaking before the game at his chairman’s lunch. It was a measured speech with less spirit than evident in his fighting press conference on Friday. He dutifully noted the various coteries in detail – their support in spirit and that cash will be required as the months pass.

There was no ovation, but no jeer. There was one ripple of applause when he insisted that the board were steadfast in the belief their players had not been given a banned substance.

After an ugly week for both teams – though Melbourne’s ugliness was confined to the field – it began an ugly contest that improved as the match wore on.

The Essendon players began the game with urgency, energy and intent but without focus. They comfortably had the majority of the ball for the first half, occupied it in their half of the ground but battled to convert that to a score.

When the second half began the Dons began as they did the first term with two bright pieces of play that delivered Brendon Goddard and Zaharakis quick goals and the lead was built to a game high 33 points. From there by stealth the Essendon game fell apart. Their ball use in the third term in particular was atrocious and it not only allowed Melbourne into the contest, it demanded they come in.

Melbourne became bolder and played with more adventure after the static style of Queens Birthday had leaked into the first half of this game. Melbourne had 11 inside 50s in the first half, then 14 in the third quarter alone. They had been held in the match by their defenders - Lynden Dunn was outstanding, Jeremy Howe and Tom McDonald helping to withstand the assault on the defence that threatened to be overwhelming.

Melbourne found their run. They kicked six straight goals from late in the third term until they hit the lead 17 minutes into the last quarter when Dean Kent ran assuredly inside 50, pursued by Jake Carlisle, who could pressure but not catch him, and the young Demon goaled.

Zaharakis booted two in a minute to recover Essendon’s lead but when with 19 seconds to go, Christian Salem marked and goaled Melbourne was home. Such was Essendon’s lot.

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