A good team finds ways to win, and Melbourne is a very good team.
Prodded, probed, harried and hassled by an Essendon side looking to test its improved form against one of the League's leaders on Saturday night, Melbourne showed it has the fortitude to match the fantastic football in its resilient 11-point victory.
Nothing was easy as the Demons responded to two uncharacteristic defeats in their last four matches before the bye with a 9.14 (68) to 8.9 (57) win at the MCG, digging themselves out of a number of holes to overcome a fired-up and in-form Bombers outfit in a performance full of grit.
But, crucially, it also had the class to combine its newfound resolve with a healthy dose of end-product as star pair Christian Petracca (26 disposals, two goals) and Clayton Oliver (34 disposals, seven clearances) again inspired another triumph to savour.
Essendon could feel hard done by that its endless battle wasn't rewarded with what could have been a fifth victory in six matches. Though prolific duo Zach Merrett (41 disposals, nine tackles) and Darcy Parish (37 disposals, eight clearances) did everything in their power to ensure it was possible.
Perhaps inspired by coach Ben Rutten's words last week to test themselves against the competition's benchmark and prove their form is genuine – not just a flash in the pan – they were out to make things as tough as possible on the Demons from the outset.
The normally free-scoring Melbourne, itself working its way out of a mini-slump, hardly got a sniff of space and was forced to wait until the 17th minute before eventually breaking the deadlock through James Harmes.
Scoring didn't – and wouldn't – get any easier for either side from there. The Bombers claimed three successive majors on either side of the first change to convert unwavering pressure into scoring opportunities, holding the Demons goalless for well over a quarter of football in the meantime.
But two majors in a minute from Luke Jackson and Charlie Spargo sparked a vital Melbourne surge just before the interval, helping the ladder-leading Demons reclaim a three-point buffer at the main break despite Merrett's prolific 26-disposal half.
With the game on a knife's edge, the last thing Essendon could afford to do was gift Melbourne opportunities that had previously been hard to come by, but a 50m penalty against Archie Perkins was extended to a 100m penalty against Devon Smith, bringing James Jordon from the wing to the goal square.
It felt like a pivotal moment in the game and ultimately helped turn a slender Demons lead into a handy advantage, coming amid a period where Simon Goodwin's side kicked three unanswered goals to start the second half and move 21 points clear.
Essendon's improving youngsters, despite being let down in the moment, were keen to show that a maturity is developing within their game and steadied from the disappointment to hang tough until deep in the final quarter.
Cale Hooker's goal in time-on had reduced the deficit to within two kicks and forced some desperate last-ditch defending from impressive Melbourne duo Jake Lever and Steven May in the final moments. But snatching victory had always appeared just one step too far for a brave Bombers outfit, as the Demons held firm.
Zach gives Darcy's record a nudge
For large periods of Saturday night's clash, it looked as though Darcy Parish's Essendon record for most disposals in a match might only last three weeks. Zach Merrett burst out of the blocks against Melbourne, winning 26 touches in the first half alone and quickly closing on Parish's newly-set record of 44 in a single game – set recently against Richmond. But some half-time adjustments saw Merrett's influence wane in the third quarter, with the prolific Bombers onballer held without a touch for the first 18 minutes before finally winning one from a free kick late in the term. That wasn't before one last dash in the final quarter, with Merrett picking up another 11 disposals to move to 41 for the game. It complemented two goal assists, nine tackles and eight score involvements, but ultimately fell just three short of Parish's record.
Harry's quick drop has Dons roaring
You had to admire Harrison Jones' remarkable ability to get the ball from his hands to his feet so quickly. Roving a defensive knockdown from Jayden Hunt in the second term, the lanky 196cm key forward showed the reflexes and innate crumbing ability more commonly seen in Essendon colours from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti or Devon Smith. Last week's NAB AFL Rising Star nominee collected the ball on the goal line and, within an instant and the one motion, had the ball on his boot before it had managed to trickle through for a behind. Despite the goal umpire's uncertainty, calling for support from the ARC, replays confirmed the incredible piece of skill and gave Jones his just rewards.
Bang, crash and T-Mac wallops it through
Remarkably, though, Harrison Jones' goal might not have even been the most noteworthy or memorable major kicked from the very goal line on the night. Early in the third quarter, Essendon speedster Nick Hind collected the ball at full speed and galloped away on a trademark run from the last line of defence. However, under pressure from Bayley Fritsch, Hind collided against the behind post and watched as the ball freakishly ricocheted all the way to Tom McDonald directly in front of goal. Still with some work to do, the Melbourne key forward kept his composure to hook a shot over his head and through for a bizarre major. Fortunately, Hind – shaken up by his heavy hit against the post – soon got to his feet and played out the game.
ESSENDON 2.3 4.5 6.7 8.9 (57)
MELBOURNE 1.5 4.8 8.12 9.14 (68)
Essendon: Jones 2, Wright 2, Stringer, Smith, Heppell, Hooker
Melbourne: Jordon 2, Petracca 2, Harmes, Jackson, Spargo, McDonald, Sparrow
Essendon: Merrett, Parish, Heppell, Ridley, Stringer, Langford, Redman
Melbourne: Petracca, Oliver, Salem, Jordon, Lever, Harmes, May
Essendon: Zaharakis (unused)
Melbourne: Jones (unused)
Crowd: 19,414 at the MCG