Essendon VFL has had a day to forget at VU Whitten Oval, going down to Footscray by 94 points in a top-four battle. 

The Bulldogs had the jump on the VFL Dons from the get-go, kicking 12 goals to three in the first half to record a 20.9 (129) to 5.5 (35) win in slippery conditions. 

It was a disappointing and dissimilar performance from Essendon, which is usually quick to adapt to the challenge.

But today just wasn’t its day, with unclean possession and costly turnovers allowing Footscray to capitalise.

Nino Lazzaro provided the VFL Dons’ first goal 23 minutes into the opening term after the Bulldogs had already kicked four straight, giving the group a bit of momentum heading into the second quarter. 

Essendon looked competitive early when Dylan Landt put boot to ball, keeping the side within 17 points.

Nick Dixon (16 disposals, four tackles) had great composure inside 50 to then find Brayden Ham (21 disposals, five marks) on a slight angle, who booted Essendon’s third. 

Ham takes possession against Footscray. (Photo: Ben Johnstone)

Unfortunately, it was all Footscray after that, kicking six unanswered goals heading into the main break and leaving the Dons to chase a 54-point margin.

There were positive patches of play and a noticeable lift in Essendon’s intensity and effort in the second half, particularly during the third quarter, which turned out to be an arm wrestle. 

A Tynan Smith set shot brought the deficit down to 47 points, with plenty of time left on the clock for a hopeful comeback. 

The VFL Dons locked the footy inside their forward half for the majority of the term, but struggled to get reward on the scoreboard. 

A captain’s goal from Aaron Heppell (29 disposals, eight tackles) late was one that the Dons desperately needed, but made little difference in the end. 

Michael Hartley (21 disposals, five marks) and Jordan Ridley were handy inclusions in defence, while Irving Mosquito seemed to have a successful return from his hamstring injury.

Senior coach Dan Jordan put the loss down to a range of things, but was confident his side could turn things around next weekend.

“I thought our mindset was poor. Before the game we weren’t quite switched on, and then started really poorly,” Jordan said. 

“There were patches in the game where we competed pretty hard, and the first 20 minutes of the second quarter was pretty positive, but we were just inconsistent with our effort and in the end were completely outworked and outplayed by Footscray.

“We needed to bring four quarters of effort and intensity, and today we didn’t have that. It’s a bit disappointing, but we’ll learn from it and hopefully be able to get some really good progression out of the game. 

“We’ve put ourselves in the position this year to play some finals footy, and we’ve got another chance next weekend to test ourselves against another top-four side. I’ve got good belief in this group that they can get up and contend.” 

The VFL Dons will return home to Windy Hill on Saturday, August 17 to take on the Tigers from 2pm. 

Essendon 1.2 3.3 4.4 5.5 (35)
Footscray 4.1 12.3 14.5 20.9 (129)

Goals: Lazzaro, Landt, Ham, Smith, Heppell

Disposals: Heppell 29, Ham, Hartley 21, Laguda 20, Mynott 18