Port Adelaide has weathered a second-half burst from Essendon to record its fifth win of the season, 9.12 (66) to 6.14 (50), leaving it a game out of the top eight heading into next week’s bye.
The Power led by as much as 38 points midway through the match, but Essendon began to correct some significant goalkicking inaccuracy in the third quarter to cut the margin back to just 14 at the final change.
Ultimately, however, Port Adelaide steadied and took a 5-6 record into the bye, while Essendon slumps to 2-9.
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There were no late changes for either side. Lachlan Jones (Power) and Brayden Ham (Bombers) were the medical subs.
Sam Draper looked to be spending a fair bit of time up forward early in the match as the resting ruckmen rotated on Aliir Aliir in an effort to keep the star interceptor’s influence limited.
Port Adelaide looked threatening early, but it took a poor kick from Darcy Parish to deliver the Power’s first goal, with the ball going straight to Connor Rozee, who converted the set shot.
Essendon managed a few chances in front of goal but didn’t capitalise, which made Dixon’s first goal of the season all the more impactful as the star forward took a strong contested mark and snapped truly.
Zak Butters followed up with a classy finish for Port Adelaide’s third goal of the opening quarter against the still-goalless Bombers.
Essendon’s wayward goalkicking continued as Harrison Jones kicked the side’s fifth behind of the quarter.
By quarter-time, Port Adelaide held a 20-point lead over the Bombers, who had managed six behinds.
There appeared to be a tense discussion between captain Dyson Heppell and star midfielder Darcy Parish heading towards the quarter-time huddle.
“I think he’s just frustrated,” Jordan Lewis told Fox Footy.
“They clearly can’t defend, they’re probably not rolling around as they would like to because the Port Adelaide players have been able to transition the ball really well, so they’re just off defensively I think.”
Todd Marshall got Port Adelaide off to a strong start in the second term with the sixth goal of the match while Essendon continued to miss in front of goal – a rushed score made it eight straight behinds.
Marshall’s goal in particular came with alarming ease on transition, with the Bombers’ oft-criticized defensive integrity well and truly questioned.
The Bombers finally got their first goal, with tall Andrew Phillips kicking truly with a set shot.
Sam Powell-Pepper had the next three scores of the game but only one of them was a goal, while Andrew McGrath delivered a classy finish at the other end to make it two goals for the Bombers.
Port Adelaide entered half-time with a 31-point lead and the rain began to pour during the main break.
Essendon started the third quarter well, denying the Power any inside 50s in the opening few minutes and adding a goal to their tally via Harrison Jones.
Powell-Pepper left Jake Kelly looking groggy after a strong tackle saw Kelly’s head slam into the turf, then shortly after collected Zach Merrett with another crunching tackle.
He then had a solid collision with Draper as he continued to launch at the ball.
It didn’t deter the Bombers, however, as Nic Martin put through the side’s second goal of the term and cut the margin back to 19 points.
Alec Waterman was next, taking an uncontested mark in the forward 50 and eating into the margin yet again.
Sam Durham made it just an eight-point game before the Power finally started to generate some forward entries.
After a couple of misses the Power got a goal on the scoreboard with Trent Dumont kicking truly from 50 meters out.
Essendon peppered the goalface in the final few minutes but weren’t able to kick another goal, leaving them 14 points behind at the final change.
The Power had chances to put Essendon away early in the fourth term but it was their turn to miss in front of goal, with both sides trading behinds in the first half of the final quarter.
Ultimately, Essendon looked out of gas after reeling in the margin in the third quarter, allowing Port Adelaide to hold on for the win.
3) FLAKY BOMBERS CONTINUE TO LEAK SCORES
Essendon remains a side that can score but is far, far too easy to score against the other way.
Starting with the good news for Essendon fans: Your side can turn it on in bursts.
The third quarter saw Essendon kick 4.3 to Port Adelaide’s 1.4 and was thrilling to watch, with the Bombers playing better footy in the wet than they had in the dry weather of the first half.
“It was their groundball dominance, led by Parish, Hobbs and Durham around the middle of the ground and half-forward, they were fantastic,” Jonathan Brown said.
“They played a simple game and had 21 groundball gets in their front half in that third quarter – they only had 21 in the entire first half.”
Jordan Lewis agreed, adding: “They adapted so quickly when the weather came in and it started to rain.”
“They were cleaner than what they were in dry weather football.”
The Bombers also dominated center clearance in the opening term, but were unable to make the most of their chances.
Time for the bad news.
In the fourth quarter, the Bombers looked out of gas due to the petrol tickets spent in the third, but overall they remain alarmingly easy to score against.
“Poor defensive effort by Essendon especially in that opening quarter and a half, Port Adelaide just went coast to coast a couple of times and you can only do that if the opposition let you,” Mark Ricciuto said at half-time.
“Minimal pressure, a lot of holes in their defence. Port Adelaide in the last nine games have only kicked one goal from kick ins, tonight they’ve kicked two in a half. That shows Essendon’s structure is just not good enough.
“It’s a bit surprising for Ben Rutten being an All-Australian defender. They tightened up in the second half of that second quarter and got back into it a little bit.”
Defense remains the biggest concern for Essendon heading into the bye and surely Rutten tweaks some aspects of the game plan in order to turn the tide in the backhalf of the year.
2) DIXON RETURNS AND MAKES AN IMPACT
No one was expecting Charlie Dixon to set the world on fire in his first AFL game of the season, not least of which was coach Ken Hinkley.
“Just happy to have him back in the side to be honest,” he told Fox Footy pre-game.
“He’s a big presence for us and we rely on him a lot just for pure contest, not so much necessarily for marks but we hope takes a few but just a pure contest.
“He’sa real barometer for us when it comes to contested footy.”
The wet conditions in the second half didn’t help Dixon, but his ability to bring the ball to ground was on show from the outset.
He had just 10 disposals by the end of the match, but with those he kicked two goals and had four score involvements.
Dixon’s return is a huge one for Port Adelaide heading into the backhalf of the season and he looms large over the side’s faint premiership hopes.
1) YOUNG POWER PAIR GETTING BACK INTO FORM
More rests on Connor Rozee and Zak Butters’ shoulders than it perhaps should, but the two young guns change the makeup of this side when they’re up and running.
Both had middling starts to the year and the side as a whole followed, before Ken Hinkley threw them into the middle more often with great effect.
Still, they’re overall numbers are down – Butters’ player rating has dropped 15 per cent in 2022, while Rozee’s has by 27 per cent.
“They just lack some dare with their ball movement, Butters and Rozee help contribute with that,” Jonathan Brown said, pointing to last week’s down performance against Geelong.
Against Essendon, there were signs both were clicking back into good form.
Butters finished with a goal – doubling his 2022 tally – to go with 24 disposals, two goal assists and seven score involvements, while Rozee also hit the scoreboard with a major to go with 24 disposals, nine score involvements and a goal assist.
Essendon allow you to roam freely sometimes, but it’s the perfect tune-up for the pair heading into the winter months.
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