Eagles break 335-day drought as inaccurate Essendon denied thrilling victory: 3-2-1
West Coast has broken their 335-day home victory drought with a thrilling 10-point win over Essendon on Friday night.
The Eagles withstood a late comeback by the Bombers to hold on in the 16.11 (107) to 14.13 (97) victory at Optus Stadium.
Josh Kennedy was the hero with five goals, while Willie Rioli and Jamie Cripps pitched in with three goals each.
It was a tough loss for Essendon who could not put the Eagles away with their inaccuracy to blame – Peter Wright finished with 4.4 from his eight set shots.
The win means West Coast move off the bottom of the AFL ladder.
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT
Essendon jumped out to an early lead on the back of two goals to Jake Stringer.
But it was the work of Nic Martin in setting up those goals that drew praise from Fox Footy’s Jason Dunstall.
“He can find the ball this young man. He’s just a natural footballer,” Dunstall praised.
“There’s no doubt they’d (West Coast) be kicking themselves – he just looks like an absolute star in the making.”
Martin had trained with West Coast ahead of the 2021 season, but was not added to their list. Twelve months later, he was given the same opportunity at Essendon and has since cemented his place in their best 22.
Martin was able to hit up a free Stringer outside 50. And the forward kicked truly from 55m.
Martin was then the player who got quick hands out from the stoppage to Matt Guelfi who snapped truly for the visitors.
“Structurally set up perfectly there the Essendon footy club,” commentator Brad Johnson praised.
“Guelfi was able to sit off the back. Martin with the smarts to know exactly where his teammate was.
“Perfect positioning from Guelfi to get that handpass receive.”
The Eagles were then their “own worst enemy” when Andrew Gaff coughed up the footy under no pressure.
“It’s a costly little to from Andrew Gaff. He desperately tried to make amends and couldn’t get there,” Dunstall said.
“Gaff’s got clean position, (Rotham) is not expecting Andrew Gaff under no pressure to turn it over.”
Josh Kennedy kept the Eagles in touch, but down the other end, Peter Wright was doing the damage with two goals in the first term.
“He’s got two, but he could have four,” Dunstall lamented.
“He’s had four shots on goal already. We saw the shot of Adam Simpson in the coaches box just shaking his head.
“Simpson would be going … ‘we had ample time to fly for the ball’. None of the eagles decided to attack the footy. They were all spectators.”
Wright’s first goal came from a brilliant effort from Zach Merrett at half back. He was able to get the ball at clearance and worked hard to be the final kick inside 50.
“It’s just too easy around the contest. Essendon are just pushing the Eagles off the ball and away from the ball,” Johnson said.
“ (Merrett’s) showing the West Coast Eagles how to go about it. He just dominated them with a power run.”
The Bombers were running riot, winning the opening seven clearances for a remarkable 14-2 inside 50 count.
“I think (West Coast) are wearing lead boots as well. They are not getting across the ground at all,” Johnson said.
“As soon as the ball breaks from clearance, it’s the Bombers running into space. Really outrunning their opponents,” Dunstall said.
Late goals to Jack Darling and Kennedy saw the Eagles close to 14 points at the first break, as West Coast narrowed the clearance count 7-6.
Jamie Cripps got West Coast off to the perfect start in the second term.
The Eagles won the centre clearance and locked the ball in, resulting in Cripps’ quick snap to narrow the margin to eight points.
“They look dangerous when they’ve gone forward … they just aren’t going forward enough,” Dunstall said.
Wright blew his golden opportunity to extend Essendon’s lead, kicking his third behind for the match, before Willie Rioli found his radar down the other end.
Rioli worked his opponent Dyson Heppell under the footy before taking the mark.
“As long as you don’t give them a big old fashioned shove, they get away with it,” Dunstall praised.
When Cripps intercepted Nick Hind’s exit from defence, suddenly West Coast had the lead.
“It’s been a huge turnaround for the West Coast Eagles,” Johnson said.
“They won’t know what it feels like (in the lead),” Dunstall joked.
“The forwards have got their confidence up – they feel like they can score every time they go forward.”
Nic Martin helped teammate Peter Wright get separation from opponent Tom Barrass, and the big man took full advantage to give Essendon the lead once more.
But Darling found space out the back as the seesawing contest continued in the third.
Second-gamer Rhett Bazzo failed to snaffle an intercept mark as Guelfi took full advantage to give the Bombers the lead once more.
“It looked like West Coast were going to clean it up in the air … it was Wright who got to the contest and just put some pressure on the back of Bazzo,” Johnson said.
“Guelfi was in the perfect position front and centre.”
But again the Eagles had the response through Willie Rioli. Wright again failed to find his radar, slamming his down-field free kick into the post.
When Kennedy had his third for the night from right on the 50m arc, it was West Coast with the seven-point lead.
Jake Waterman had Rioli inside in a better position, but opted to go to the big veteran.
“Go to the man that’s kicked a bazillion goals because this is his business. He knows what he’s doing,” Dunstall praised.
Essendon had chances late in the term to reclaim the lead, but inaccuracy again cost them.
For the first time since Round 4, West Coast went into the main break with a five-point lead.
Wright found his range in the third term to kick his fourth goal of the match, after an “inexcusable” moment for the Eagles defence.
“They just keep finding him and finding him in space,” Dunstall said.
“Barrass just gets caught standing. That was poor communication between the West Coast defence.
“That is inexcusable.”
But once against the Eagles found an immediate response through Jake Waterman after teammate Darling refused to give up on the contest and fought to get the ball forward.
Nic Martin had a big celebration for his first goal against the side that overlooked him in 2021, but once again the Eagles found avenues to goal at the other end of the ground.
The see-sawing contest continued in the final term as neither side could establish a match-winning lead.
The Eagles pushed out to a 21-point lead when the ball sat up perfectly for Kennedy to kick his fifth goal of the match.
“Sometimes you can’t believe your luck,” Dunstall said.
“It had beaten every body and then sat up a treat.
“It went through traffic without touching anyone. He enjoyed that one.”
“I thought it was the QE II turning around … but he managed to straighten it up,” Johnson joked.
But again the Bombers refused to concede.
Two late goals in just one minute narrowed the margin to just 10 points in the dying seconds.
But the Eagles hung on to record just their second win of the year – and their first at home in 335 days.
THE 3-2-1 …
When you see last vs third-last in the late Friday night clash, fans could have been tempted to reach for the remote.
But the Eagles and Bombers put on a show, with a high-scoring, free-flowing contest showing both sides used the bye to implore riskier style of play.
It was the Eagles who came up with the win, breaking their 335-day home victory drought on Friday night.
Josh Kennedy wound back the clock at Optus Stadium, kicking five goals – equalling his career best against the Bombers set back in 2019.
The Bronx cheers went up around the stadium when the Eagles had a rushed behind late in the fourth term, bringing the club to triple figures for the first time in 26 games.
West Coast had not hit the magical 100-point mark in 2022 – but when they did, the crowd went up.
Minutes later, the Eagles chant went up but the Bombers refused to be denied.
Two quick goals narrowed the margin to just 10 points with less than two minutes remaining.
Tom Barrass took a big mark in front of Peter Wright to deny the Bombers a last ditch goal.
And the crowd of almost 41,000 erupted seconds later.
2. Wasteful Wright still the pick of Bombers
Peter Wright could have had a day out against the West Coast Eagles.
But instead of a big bag of goals, inaccuracy ensured Wright missed out on a potential career best night.
Commentator Brad Johnson said Wright was simply “leaning back” on his set shots in the opening half, ensuring he went to the main break with 3.4.
Such was Wright’s dominance in the air, he had five marks inside forward 50 to half time.
“He’s tall and he’s strong and he’s standing up,” Johnson praised.
“But he’s missed some opportunities he would have liked.
“His aerial ability is sensational.”
Jason Dunstall liked the way Wright was presenting to the ball carrier.
“It’s nearly been the ultimate pay off. He’s marking the ball well, but the only thing he hasn’t done is finish,” he lamented.
“There hasn’t been any tough shots.
“He’s giving them an incredible target up forward.”
Wright had two goals in the first term, a third in the second term and one more in the third. But he couldn’t add to his tally in the last when the match went down to the wire.
His four-goal haul comes after two big efforts in 2022, including six goals against Hawthorn and four against St Kilda earlier this year.
1. Yeo’s master stroke move
Elliot Yeo had played just three games this year leading into Friday night’s clash with Essendon.
But he has made a positional shift in the past tow games, heading down into defence. With Jeremy McGovern missing through his nasty rib injury, the Eagles were down an accurate kicker coming out of the backline.
Enter Elliot Yeo against Essendon.
Yeo was the man charged with bringing the ball back into play – something that happened 13 times against an inaccurate Bombers – and he made every kick count.
Yeo had 14 disposals to half time at 91% disposal efficiency.
But it was Yeo’s decision-making in defence that impressed coach Adam Simpson most.
“He is taking the game on. I think it’s been a smart move moving him back to defence,” commentator Jason Dunstall said.
Yeo was involved in a brilliant passage of play that saw him take the game on through the corridor before finding Shannon Hurn, who hit up a target inside 50.
“It’s great ball movement. That’s the template them – keep moving the ball like that,” Dunstall praised.
Brad Johnson was impressed with how the Eagles moved the ball from defence.
“West Coast off half back have been able to go quick and get it out to the open side of the ground,” Johnson said.
“Elliot Yeo has been a big player in getting it out from half back.
“We know they’ve got a crafty forward line, they are giving them opportunity.”
Yeo finished the match with 20 disposals and six intercepts in his second game back from injury.
Source: Fox Sport
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