Essendon's old nemesis Lance Franklin had the final and decisive say as Sydney continued their unbeaten start to the AFL season in eclipsing the Bombers in a thriller at the SCG.
With Sydney clinging to a four-point lead late in the game, Franklin took a mark and converted the set shot to record his third major of the night, the 950th of his career and his 73rd against Essendon, the most he has kicked against any club.
Essendon fought to the end, with Cale Hooker booting a late goal and Sydney defender Dane Rampe making a desperate touch to save another, but time ran out for the visitors as they went down by three points.
It was the fifth time in their past seven contests the game had been settled by 10 points or less, Sydney winning 11.17 (83) to 12.8 (80).
Sydney has captivated the AFL community with their free-flowing style, scoring over 100 points in each of their first three wins.
But on Thursday night they proved they can win ugly and come from behind.
"That's the most pleasing thing out of it, you get behind and you're scrapping along," Sydney coach John Longmire said.
"You're finding a different way to win."
Longmire praised Essendon for their pressure in the final quarter in which they laid over 30 tackles.
While much has been made of Sydney's young guns, Longmire acknowledged the important contributions on Thursday from veterans Franklin, Rampe, Josh Kennedy and Jake Lloyd.
The Bombers kicked six straight goals either side of quarter-time to get out to a 25-point lead in the second quarter.
Jake Stringer snagged a couple of early goals and Darcy Parish was also prominent in the Bombers surge.
During that period, the Bombers' increased intensity prevented Sydney playing the swift, incisive football that was a hallmark of their first three games.
But Sydney rallied to kick the last five goals of the half to lead by five points at the long break.
It wasn't until their final major of the half that they produced the dazzling end-to-end flow they have become renowned for.
Sam Reid's second goal expanded Sydney 's lead to 11 points, but both sides kicked three in the term, which ended with Essendon ahead by a point.
Essendon's Alec Waterman landed a set shot from just inside 50 metres for the first goal of the last quarter but Justin McInerney replied in kind to level the score.
Sydney then took control but missed multiple opportunities, logging four straight behinds, before Franklin kicked the clincher to deny the fighting Bombers.
"Proud of the group is certainly the way I'm feeling," Essendon coach Ben Rutten said.
"Certainly disappointed and the players were shattered about the result.
"The character, the grit, the determination the guys showed right till the last seconds."
The Swans dominated clearances and had 31 more contested possessions, with Luke Parker collecting 32 touches.
Sydney suffered a blow in the second quarter when Isaac Heeney was forced off the ground with a broken hand and replaced by James Bell, Sydney's first medical substitute of the season.
Heeney had looked in good form before his setback, grabbing six marks.
Australian Associated Press