The tight AFL season is about the only thing going for Essendon’s finals hopes after their stunning eight-point loss to struggling Brisbane.
The Lions had their best performance under first-year coach Chris Fagan on Sunday at Etihad Stadium, roaring back in the last quarter for a shock 13.12 (90) to 11.16 (82) win.
After leading by 27 points early in the last term, the Bombers again were found wanting in a tight finish.
Brisbane small forward Ryan Lester somehow took an uncontested mark deep in attack with two minutes left and kicked the goal that ensured the win.
It came a week after Essendon coughed up a 19-point lead in the last couple of minutes against Sydney.
Essendon have lost four of their past five games – but they remain two wins outside the top eight.
“At the moment, you would say maybe the only thing that’s keeping us in the mix is that no team is grabbing it and running away with it.,” Essendon coach John Worsfold said.
“I would much rather be saying we’re in the mix for the finals because of the good footy we’re playing.
“From today, I can’t say that. Previously I would have said that.
“Today, we’ve got to say ‘how do we bounce back from this? What sort of footy can we play over the next eight weeks?'”
Fagan said the main focus for his team was restricting Essendon’s uncontested marks.
He noted that when Essendon dominate that statistic, they beat good teams.
On Sunday, the young Lions won that category 93-63.
It did not matter that the Bombers won the inside 50s 61-48.
“For a team to say that they achieved what they wanted to achieve, by stopping us doing that, is an indictment on our ability to take that on,” Worsold said.
It is unfair to single out Essendon players – so many of them underperformed – but midfielder Zach Merrett was noticeably down.
He only had 19 disposals – his lowest return for nearly two seasons.
“I don’t know the answer to that – he didn’t indicate anything (wrong) at half-time,” Worsfold said.
“We were obviously looking at the impact he was having and we were concerned about that.
“But no, he was OK.”
First-year key forward Eric Hipwood starred for the Lions with four goals, while Dayne Zorko rebounded from a quiet match last weekend and had 30 disposals.
In his second senior game, teenager Alex Witherden was excellent across half-back.
Adding to the lustre of the win, the Lions lost key defender Darcy Gardiner in the first quarter.
His season could be over after he was taken to hospital with a dislocated elbow.