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O'Brien, Langford inspire VFL Dons

Nick O'Brien converts a crucial set shot late in the win over Footscray.

The game was in the balance when Nick O’Brien lined up for goal deep in the Bombers forward pocket.

The Dons had led for most of the match, but Footscray rallied with two quick goals in the last quarter to take a one-point lead.

Enter the Captain. He had already been a strong ball winner throughout the day, but showed his nous in front of goal with a set shot that never looked like missing and sparked a roar from the Bombers faithful that had gathered at Windy Hill.

It was the exclamation mark on a polished performance from the SANFL’s reigning Magarey Medal runner-up.

He finished with 40 disposals and nine marks.

“He was super again,” Essendon Performance Coach Mark Corrigan said.

“He just works from contest to contest.

“You don’t just luckily find that much ball – he’s working really hard and leading from the front which is what we ask.”

Moments after O’Brien’s goal, Nick Hind used his pace to beat his opponent to the ball and kick truly from the goal square to put the Bombers 12 points up.

The Dogs got one goal back, but Essendon held on to move a step closer to securing a spot in the top four with one home and away match remaining.

While the Dogs relied on their tall marking targets, including premiership player Tom Boyd, the Bombers looked to use their pace to break open the play.

Kyle Langford was a key contributor as he picked up 30 possessions, took eight marks, laid four tackles and kicked two goals.

His evasiveness was ever-present and he was able to split the Dogs defensive line on several occasions with pinpoint passes to teammates.

“He’s probably disappointed he’s not playing AFL at the moment but he’s also getting great experience and learning to play as an inside midfielder,” Corrigan said.

“Ultimately if that’s where he wants to play in the AFL, then that’s what he’s doing here.

“He’s sharpening his teeth at VFL level and this was another step forward for him.

“He’s got to put back to back consistent performances together now and today he played really well so it’s really positive for him.”

The Dogs looked most threatening when they were able to get quick entries to Boyd or fellow big man Tom Campbell.

The pair kicked five goals between them against an undersized Essendon defence.

After Matt Dea and Matt Darby took the key defensive posts in the first quarter, Mitch Brown entered the fray after quarter time to line-up on Boyd.

It was Brown’s first match since his second serious ankle injury of the season seven weeks ago.

“I thought he defended really well,” Corrigan said.

“He’s missed a lot of footy so the expectations aren’t that high when you’ve missed that much footy but I thought he defended really well one-on-one against a much bigger opponent.

“They were hard to combat at times.

“A little bit of that comes back to us needing to put more pressure on the ball carrier to not allow that easy delivery inside 50.

“In saying that I thought Mitch competed really well against Boyd and the defence did enough to limit their impact.”

The win is the Bombers second straight narrow victory over a top four opponent.

“The boys take a lot of confidence out of that,” Corrigan said.

“We’ve now beaten Williamstown, Box Hill and Footscray – three of the top four teams so for us that’s great knowing our brand of footy holds up against the top teams.”