The VFL Bombers were beaten in heartbreaking fashion against Southport. (Photo: Deion Menzies)

Essendon VFL suffered a four-point loss to Southport in a cliffhanger at Fankhauser Reserve on Sunday.

The Bombers led for most of the day, until a match-winning goal from the second-placed Sharks saw the home side steal a 11.9 (75) to 10.11 (71) win.


Aaron Francis started the match off with a bang in his return from mental health leave, kicking a goal for the Dons within the first minute and setting the tone for the rest of the first term.

The Dons applied excellent forward pressure and for the most part were able to make clean and smart forward-50 entries thanks to the likes of Alec Waterman, who gave his all in midfield. 

Tom Hird looked comfortable as a forward, involving himself in a lot of the play. He earned a set shot late in the first term and was able to hit the scoreboard for the Dons, who led by 11 points at the first break.

The Sharks found some intensity and momentum coming into the second term, with their stronger forward pressure leading to two goals in the first half of the quarter.

Although the Dons saw some poor forward-50 entries and turnovers, they were able to answer with two consecutive goals of their own thanks to top-up player Paddy McCartin and Josh Eyre, who kicked a long bomb from 60 metres out.

Former Richmond star Alex Rance proved a great addition to the squad, making his presence known by covering all parts of the ground, evident in the 13 disposals he had notched up in the first half.

Alex Rance marshals the defence as one of the Bombers' ring-in players. (Photo: AFL Photos)

The Bombers held a nine-point lead at the main break, but it was clear the Sharks were not going down without a fight.

The third term saw Waterman continue to cover the ground superbly. He frequently applied strong defensive pressure to finish with a game-high 10 tackles.

While the Dons were strong in defence, particularly thanks to Brandon-Zerk Thatcher’s stellar efforts in the backline, they didn’t have much luck down forward and missed many easy goal opportunities.

Despite Francis’ best efforts as a forward, the Sharks outscored the Dons three goals to two in the third quarter.

The Bombers managed to hold on to a slender lead for most of the final term, but the Sharks remained hot on their heels, upping their defensive pressure to get within a goal.

While it looked as though the Dons had the win in the bag, two late goals from the Sharks, including the match-winner from former Carlton player Tom Fields in the final minute, saw them run away with a four-point victory.

Francis impresses with first game back up forward 

Back in June, Francis announced he was taking a short break to deal with his mental health.

In his first game back, the key defender was thrown up forward and did not disappoint. Francis managed to kick the opening goal for the Dons and ended up with 15 disposals and seven marks.

Rance among Bombers' ring-ins

Due to AFL Victoria’s decision to go ahead with a VFL round this week in Queensland, the Dons were left with only 11 AFL-listed players available to play. This left the Bombers needing to scour the country for 11 ring-in players.

Among those that put their hands up were retired premiership star Alex Rance and Sydney Swans reserve utility Paddy McCartin.

Both added experience and knowledge to the squad, with Rance notching up 18 disposals and four marks and McCartin securing three goals and six marks.

Paddy McCartin gets around Tom Hird. (Photo: AFL Photos)

SOUTHPORT 1.3 3.6 6.8 11.19 (72)
ESSENDON 3.2 5.8 7.8 10.11 (71)

Goals: McCartin 3, Burgess 2, Ankers, Eyre, Francis, Hird, Illet

Disposals: Clarke 31, Roseby 29, Cornish 27, Gleeson 23, Ankers 20