Essendon delivered a thrilling reminder of its finals credentials with a dominant 61-point win over St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
Just six days after the Saints wiped the floor with Richmond they were given a taste of their own medicine, with the Bombers cashing in on a hot night to win 17.16 (118) to 7.15 (57).
They set up the win with a withering seven-goal third term but were the better team from start to finish, with early inaccuracy and a late salvage mission from St Kilda the only things preventing a bigger blowout.
The result squares Essendon’s season at 8-8 and keeps it in the finals mix, with back-to-back wins suggesting John Worsfold’s team is building at the right time of the year.
It was a miserable night for the 9-7 Saints, meanwhile, with the gains of last week all but undone in a loss that draws them back to the pack with six rounds remaining.
The Bombers had winners all over the ground, but tall forward Joe Daniher was the star with four goals and two thrilling marks on top of opponent Jake Carlisle’s shoulders.
While teammates faltered in front of goal, Daniher was a sharpshooter, with the dynamic forward moving to the top of the Coleman Medal leaderboard with a career-best 45 goals for the season.
David Zaharakis (32 possessions and two goals) and Zach Merrett (37 and 10 tackles) controlled the midfield, while ruckman Tom Bellchambers (26 hit-outs and two goals) dominated opponent Tom Hickey.
By the final siren the Bombers had won 66 more possessions and laid 16 more tackles, underlining not only their ability to retain possession, but defensive mindset when they didn’t have it.
The tackle figure was damning for the Saints, who have averaged an AFL-high eight more tackles than their opponents this season.
Carlisle was one of the Saints’ better performers in his first game against his former club with 19 possessions and 11 marks, while defenders Shane Savage (31 and eight marks) and Dylan Roberton (26 and 11 rebound 50s) toiled hard.
The Saints also blooded high school debutant Josh Battle, who converted a long-range set shot to kick the first goal of his career in a rare highlight for the club.
Carlisle’s night started with a handshake and a hug from Daniher but boos from the fans that cheered him for 85 games.
The boos subsided but Daniher turned nasty, sitting on the key defender’s shoulders in the early minutes as he flew for a spectacular mark, then playing on to snap the opening goal of the game.
Making a good start would have been a focus for the Saints against an Essendon team that had won 12 of its 15 first quarters this season, but they couldn’t get any rhythm to their game.
The Bombers controlled general play and cruised to a 28-point lead at half-time, with inaccuracy from forwards James Stewart and Orazio Fantasia, who combined for 0.7, the only glitch.
Weight of numbers in the second half ensured that would not matter, however, as the Bombers kicked away for a win that could prove significant to the finals make-up.
ST KILDA 0.2 2.6 4.11 7.15 (57)
ESSENDON 2.5 6.10 13.12 17.16 (118)
St Kilda: Gresham, Carlisle, Bruce, Riewoldt, Battle, Sinclair, Lonie
Essendon: Daniher 4, Green 2, Bellchambers 2, Zaharakis 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, McKenna, Hurley, Hooker, Colyer, Myers
St Kilda: Savage, Roberton, Steven, Newnes, Carlisle
Essendon: Zaharakis, Daniher, Merrett, Hurley, McGrath, Bellchambers
St Kilda: Gilbert (finger)
Umpires: Margetts, O’Gorman, Nicholls
Official crowd: 47,156 at Etihad Stadium
Source: Essendon FC’s website