Returning star Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was almost the hero in Essendon's three-point VFL loss to Casey Demons at Casey Fields on Saturday.
The livewire forward had the opportunity to win the game with a post-siren shot from 50m, but his attempt drifted wide as the Demons held on for a 13.13 (91) to 13.10 (88) victory.
The 28-year-old got the Bombers off to a fast start, booting the opening goal to finish with 2.2 and 11 disposals, having built his fitness with a mini pre-season after taking time away from the club over summer.
Holding a six-point advantage at quarter-time, Essendon added just five goals to Casey's eight in the next two terms to trail by 17 at the final break, before a strong finish almost snatched an unlikely victory.
First-round draftee Ben Hobbs continued his push for an AFL debut, amassing 24 disposals, seven clearances, four tackles and a game-high 10 marks.
Alec Waterman booted three goals, Garrett McDonagh had 16 touches, and ruckman Nick Bryan had 13 disposals and 26 hitouts - the same stat line as his opponent Majak Daw.
The Bombers eclipsed the Demons in disposals (310-290), inside-50s (53-47), marks (89-51) and clearances (36-35), with captain Joe Atley (28 disposals, 12 clearances, eight tackles) leading from the front in another superb outing.
Essendon will play its first ever VFL game at the NEC Hangar for premiership points when it hosts Frankston from 12:35pm on Sunday.
CASEY DEMONS 3.4 7.9 11.12 13.13 (91)
ESSENDON 4.4 5.6 9.7 13.10 (88)
Goals: Waterman 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Weightman 2, Golds 2, Baldwin, Hobbs, Sutton, Voss
Disposals: Atley 28, Hobbs 24, Fitzgerald 22, Conforti 18
- with AFL.com.au