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The month ahead

Conor Walsh  June 19, 2018 12:15 PM

BTV: Mid-season bests | Goals Watch Essendon's best goals from the first half of the season.

Essendon’s season is well and truly alive and the next month could define it with three straight clashes against sides currently entrenched in the top eight.

The first half of the season has not been without its hiccups, but the Bombers have been gathering momentum and signs suggest that things are beginning to click within the team.

Coach John Worsfold proclaims that his side has started to find its identity, with a much more pronounced pressuring style and attacking flare coming to the fore in recent weeks.

Essendon will certainly need to be at its best in the coming weeks, but with plenty to play for you would expect the side to come out of the bye firing.

 

WEST COAST
Where – Optus Stadium

When – Thursday, June 21.

There are few bigger challenges than facing the Eagles at their new home. Only Sydney has been able to beat West Coast this year and only percentage keeps it off the top of the ladder with a game in hand over ladder-leader Richmond.

But all hope is not lost for Essendon as the club appears to have shaken its worrying travelling record this season with tough victories over GWS and Brisbane in two of its last three matches.

Even more encouraging is the sides’ latest clash, where the Bombers ran riot to thump the Eagles by 61 points in round nine last year.

While it is sure to be a challenging game, Worsfold will be as keen as ever to score an underdog victory over his former side and burst into the back half of the year with a point to prove.

 

NORTH MELBOURNE

Where – Etihad Stadium

When – Sunday, July 1.

The Kangaroos have been one of the surprise packets of the season, defying most experts with an outstanding first half of the season to hold their spot in the top eight exiting the bye.

Key forward Ben Brown continues to go from strength to strength, while veteran Shaun Higgins is playing better than ever among a number of Roos making their mark on the competition.

North Melbourne has shown it can match it with the competition’s best sides, setting up its season impressively by defeating Sydney, Hawthorn, GWS and falling to Richmond by just 10 points.

The latest clash between the sides saw a shootout at Etihad Stadium with the Bombers booting seven goals in the final term to run away with an important 27-point victory in round 18 last year.

Essendon smashed North Melbourne in the clearances (51 to 28) and contested possessions (162 to 135) on that occasion to break a run of four-straight losses to the Kangaroos.

With their opponents in much better form this season, a tough match lies ahead.

 

COLLINGWOOD

Where – MCG

When – Sunday, July 8

Collingwood put Essendon to the sword on ANZAC Day and the Bombers will be hungry to fight back and show how dangerous their best can be in round 16.

The Magpies haven’t slowed down since that victory, impressing with their attacking prowess and racing into sixth position off the back of four consecutive wins.

With matches against Carlton and Gold Coast in the next fortnight, it is entirely feasible that Collingwood will enter this match shooting for seven in a row, keen to prove themselves as premiership contenders.

The midfield battle will prove crucial against the Pies’ star-studded on-ball brigade, and the recent form of Essendon’s midfield led by skipper Dyson Heppell and 2017 All Australian Zach Merrett is extremely encouraging.

One player who may worry Collingwood if he lines up is Orazio Fantasia. The damaging forward was absent on ANZAC Day, but booted nine goals in Essendon’s two defeats of the Magpies last year.

 

GOLD COAST

Where – Metricon Stadium

When – Saturday, July 14

Essendon will be shooting for three straight victories over Gold Coast in round 17 and will be looking to continue its improved interstate performances this year.

Inaccuracy from the Bombers – who booted 12.18 to the Suns’ 9.3 – softened the blow for Gold Coast in the teams’ only match last year and recent form suggests Essendon would head into the clash with high expectations.

Gold Coast has only won one game since round two and has suffered seven losses in a row to sit stranded towards the tail of the ladder, while its effort of a total of two behinds from its last four final terms has been well documented.

It may seem like a simple proposition now, but there is no doubt that the Suns will be hungry to salvage something from their season after a difficult start with immense travel commitments taking its toll.

If Essendon can head into this match off some strong performances against their more distinguished upcoming opponents, fans will have reason to be excited about the back end of the season.