After a tight battle, the VFL Bombers were ultimately outskilled against North Melbourne in a 15-point defeat at Windy Hill on Saturday.
The Dons were locked into a close game from the get-go, but the Kangaroos were able to outscore the Bombers in the final term to run away with a 12.13 (85) to 11.4 (70) victory.
The first term saw a pretty even contest between the two sides with neither particularly dominating at either end of the ground.
Patrick Ambrose, who missed the 2020 season with a foot injury, quickly proved to be instrumental to the Dons’ forward line, nabbing back-to-back goals within the opening 10 minutes.
But the Bombers struggled to compete with the Roos’ strong forward pressure, trailing by five points at the first break.
Martin Gleeson and Ned Cahill took a defensive stance in the midfield, applying much-needed pressure against North Melbourne, with the visitors able to consistently make their way down the middle corridor and into their forward half.
But the Bombers struggled to achieve the same amount of success in their forward line. The Kangaroos’ defensive pressure was just too strong, which resulted in poor decision making and skillful errors from the Dons.
Returning from the main break four points up, North Melbourne’s persistent intensity and pressure made it difficult for the Bombers to do much with the ball.
Late into the third term, Nick Bryan’s spectacular hitout from centre bounce generated an opportunity for goal, and allowed youngster Sam Conforti to drill the ball from 45 metres out and nab a first-class goal.
Going into the final term the Roos only held a five-point lead, and while Patrick Ambrose was able to score his fifth goal, the Dons ultimately succumbed to a 15-point loss.
A young team
Of the 22 new recruits to join the VFL Bombers this season, many are young and inexperienced players who have yet to play at VFL level before.
While many stepped up to the task, VFL development coach Cam Roberts attributes some of the issues Essendon faced against the Roos to inexperience among a group which he says will take time to develop.
“In a game, players have got to be able to problem solve and try and get the game back on our terms, or even as a minimum just sort of halve contests so we can take the sting out of the game. We didn't quite respond in that area,” Roberts said.
“I think that's a bit about a young team. You’ve got to experience that sometimes to learn from it, so hopefully it was a really good learning curve for us.
“It’s just some of these young guys are just learning what our system is and it takes a bit of time. Not to make excuses, but we’ve had a few changes over the last couple of weeks where you get new guys in, new guys playing their first game and it just takes a bit of time.”
Disconnect throughout the ground
While Bryan showed finesse throughout midfield to end with 43 hitouts, and Ambrose continued to impress in the forward line with five goals, Roberts said the disconnect throughout the whole field was what let the Dons down in the end.
“Our mids weren’t supporting our backs, and then our backs weren’t supporting our mids and so forth,” he said.
“We just couldn't set the ground up properly because we were so disconnected between all our lines so they were able to work through us rather than us be strong in our positions because we hadn’t set the ground up.
“So not being able to do that was really disappointing. It enabled them to score easily on us in the end.”
Struggling with contested possessions
The Kangaroos’ strong defensive and forward pressure made it extremely difficult for the Dons to take control of the contest.
The Roos were able to make a strong impact in all areas of the ground and Roberts said the team struggled with this during the middle of the game in particular.
“We lost a bit of ascendancy around the contest and we never really got the contest back. They were much better around the contest whereas we were either too outside or too inside,” he said.
“We just want to play our brand of footy but we really want to focus on the contested possession and also our tackling pressure.
“Early in the game we were OK in those areas, and we showed signs in the last quarter, but through the middle course of the game we sort of lost our way in that area so they were able to move the ball away from us too easily.”
The VFL Bombers will head to Williamstown next week to take on the Seagulls at Downer Oval from 2pm.
ESSENDON 4.0 5.1 8.2 11.4 (70)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.1 5.5 8.7 12.3 (85)
Goals: Ambrose 5, Atley, Brown, Conforti, Johnson, McLarty, Smithson
Disposals: Baker 31, Bryan 25, Atley 21, Hobbs 21, Thompson 19