There was a point in this game I wondered which Crows players I’d be talking about most in the review. Brad Crouch was having a day out, Tom Lynch was racking them up and Brodie Smith was having an absolute ball.

They were five goals ahead and the Bombers midfield were sputtering. Dylan Shiel had just ten touches at half time, Zach Merrett nine, Kyle Langford eight and Andrew McGrath seven. Add to that Adam Saad unable to get off the chain, with five touches, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti matched him at the other end.

But belief is a funny thing, and while the Bombers looked like they were out of it, they knew they weren’t.

Staring down the barrel of a 30 point deficit, they kicked 12 of the next 15 goals in a huge turnaround, and all of a sudden, the Bombers, with Gold Coast on the agenda next, look as though they will play finals in 2019.

And you… yes you… wanted John Worsfold sacked.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

THE LIFT OF SHIEL AND MERRETT

There are two parts to this, but they both involve hard, gut-running play and a determination to take the game on.

I was ready to blast both these guys at half time. Shiel was being soundly beaten in the middle, to the point where I was actually questioning whether he was playing in the first quarter – for the record, he had three touches.

Merrett was no better – his three touches were nothing to write home about.

When you have these two restricted the way they were, the Bombers were lucky to be within nine points of the Crows. You can thank the poor conversion by Adelaide and the defensive efforts of Mason Redman for such a narrow margin.

Their second quarter was marginally better, but it was the third quarter that blew the game open. The run and carry of both these players was phenomenal. It was as though they had a chat with Conor McKenna and he enlightened them to the fact that no one on the Crows has the genuine explosive leg speed to catch them. I reckon it went something like this.

McKenna – “Ey fellas, fooken Crews kent be running fast. Fookin run and they’ll nary catch ye.”

Look, I don’t know how the bloke speaks, but all I know is that I can’t understand him, and I reckon half the team doesn’t understand him either. Merrett and Shiel may have just smiled and nodded and deciphered the words “fooken” and “run” and that’s all they needed to know.

So they did. Shiel arched his back and took off every time he got the ball. He cut a swathe through the Adelaide midfield as he had 13 second half disposals and gained 477 metres. He even kicked a goal… and that just isn’t his thing. When Shiel starts hitting the scoreboard, you know something’s up.

Merrett’s gut-running was outstanding, so much so I reckon he was best on ground. He was a difference maker, and made the kind of impact that simply cannot be ignored in this one. He had 22 touches after half time as he put the Bombers midfield on his back, running hard all the way inside 50 to finish with 2.3 for the game.

Merrett is a confidence player. Once he gets going he is almost impossible to stop, but tonight the Crows seemed to have scouted him well enough to know how to limit him in the first half. It is testament to Merrett’s willpower that he was able to elevate his game after half time to be the most influential player in the game.

I’m not too sure what it says about Adelaide, but I am pretty sure it isn’t positive.

CONOR MCKENNA

Firstly, that little kick up to himself in the last quarter was magnificent – I absolutely loved it.

Secondly, I could not for the life of me understand why an Adelaide player didn’t put him on his ass as he ran right through them in the first quarter. To stop the McKenna run, you need to halt momentum, but I suppose it is easier said than done.

The message got through at quarter time, as when McKenna took off on another run and released the footy, Rory Sloane dropped a shoulder into him to make sure he stopped and didn’t receive the hands back. McKenna bowled Sloane over in the process (as he should) but it served the purpose and the ball was taken out of the Irishman’s hands.

With Betts keeping Saad honest, the bulk of the run from defence fell to McKenna, and he did not disappoint, but the Crows have a bit to answer for here – McKenna was not winning his own ball. The Bombers were setting him up and protecting him to use that pace and agility – Don Pyke needed to do something to stop him getting such easy ball across half back, and had he done that sooner rather than later, we may have seen Adelaide build an almost-unassailable lead.

McKenna had only three contested touches amongst his 24 disposals. He had no intercepts and had no clearances. He was the ultimate outside defender – yet Pyke neglected to limit his influence with an accountable forward. There were a few that half-tried – McKay and Murphy, mainly, but none possessed that single-mindedness necessary to sacrifice his own game to the level it would curtail the influence of McKenna.

Either that, or he was just too good.

Finally, I don’t think many people sell candy to the candy man, but did you see McKenna step around Eddie Betts in the second quarter on a kick in? Beautiful to see the tables turned.

JAKE STRINGER

I’ll be honest – I do not like writing about Jake Stringer as one of the best players on the park, but his efforts tonight cannot be discounted, and you simply have to give credit where it’s due.

Stringer was an impact player – not the 30 disposal kind of player, or the five goal hero, but he won big clearances at important times and kicked goals that turned out to be crucial. The most impressive aspect of his game came in the form of his ability to stand in the tackle, assess the situation and deliver the footy.

Either that or he would allow the tackle to fall off him and he’d run away.

I’m not sure people are aware just how “strong through the hips” you have to be to stand your ground with an AFL player trying to drag you down. Stringer is a complete beast, and his move into the middle at times gave the Bombers some absolute mongrel in there.

Also, my missus finds it hilarious when a player is described as strong through the hips. She gets all giggly.

Look, there will be games where things do not work for Stringer, and selfishly I will smile because his demeanour is horrible (I hate that double arm outstretched appeal to the umpire that he does every single game, usually for decisions he has no hope of swaying the ump to his side on). I’ve said it before – he looks like the bogan version of the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

But tonight definitely wasn’t one of those nights where things didn’t go his way for the former Bulldog. He was as important, if not more so, than any player on the ground. His contested work was top-notch, and he seems to have really settled into his role at the Bombers now.

Personally I still think he is best suited to a designated second option role, and would be the perfect player to work in conjunction with a fully fit Daniher. I hope we get to see this for a full season next year. As much as it pains me to say, Stringer is a star, and in a league becoming more and more robotic, he is a standout personality, someone who can rile up a crowd, and someone who can win a match off his own boot.

There’s not too many like him.

MITCH BROWN

As the first half belonged to Josh Jenkins in front of goal, the second half belonged to Mitch Brown.

As we’re all pretty much goldfish in regard to footy, it’s not just your last game that matters, but your last half, and whilst Jenkins faded in spectacular fashion, Brown stepped to the fore.

They’re such different players – Jenkins and Brown. Jenkins is the power man, and was really getting on top of Cale Hooker in the first half. Not only was he able to kick goals, he completely took away that intercept marking that Hooker is so good at – at times converting his failed attempts into goals for his team.

But all that changed with the move of Hooker to the forward line, and the responsibility shifting to Patrick Ambrose (see below).

As the Bombers adjusted, Brown started to find room in the Bombers forward fifty. He marked, ran up and doubled back, attacked the contests in the air and at ground level, and simply out-worked the bigger, slower Kyle Hartigan and then moved into the ruck – and that is where he wreaked havoc.

Brown worked up the ground and would then lose Reilly O’Brien and work forward get loose in the Essendon forward half. It created absolute chaos for Adelaide defenders. When he drifted forward to mark and goal from 45 metres out on a tough angle to bring the Bombers within a goal late in the third quarter, you could almost sense the frustration from Rory Sloane, having to trail him inside 50 in an obvious mismatch. If used wisely, having Brown as the mobile second ruck option is a role that could really hurt teams.

However, AFL coaches aren’t dumb (most of them, anyway). They will be watching the way Brown was able to drift into the middle and then beat everyone back when the Bombers got the ball – chances are they won’t be allowing that against any team after next week (let’s face it – the cue is in the rack for the Suns… the Bombers should have their way and if they chose to employ that tactic, Brown may kick seven).

Brown finished with four second half goals to act as the focal point of the Essendon forward line, but his game was so much more varied than your traditional forward. 23 disposals at 93% efficiency are a coach’s wet dream for a forward. I hope John Worsfold has a spare set of sheets handy tonight.

REILLY O’BRIEN

I have to give a bit of credit to Shaun McKernan here – I thought he battled on well, and won some pretty significant clearances and contests against O’Brien as the game wore on, but on the whole, you could mount an argument that O’Brien was best on ground.

I’d shoot you down, but argue away if you feel that way inclined.

O’Brien had 27 touches wit go with his 39 hitouts and added even clearances to an already impressive night’s work. I read tonight that he has signed a two year deal with the Crows, and it was earned the hard way this season. His influence may have faded in the second half – along with the rest of his team – but O’Brien has more than proven he belongs as an elite ruck in this league.

I believe I heard the commentators state he was third behind Grundy and Gawn? I’d throw Rowan Marshall in the mix there as well. Both great young rucks.

BRAD CROUCH

It was the tenth time this season that crouch has topped the 30-disposal mark for the Crows, in what has been a consistent highlight for Crows fans.

Crouch was prolific in the first half when the Crows really should have capitalised on their midfield dominance. He had 18 touches and six clearances as he ran roughshod over an Essendon midfield that looked as though they couldn’t get out of the gates.

Alas, they did get out of the gates, and though Crouch still had the most touches on the ground, his impact on the game in the second half was largely reduced by a far more determined Bomber outfit, who looked as though they had made the collective decision (or had it pointed out to them) that playing bruise-free footy against players like Crouch simply does not work.

35 touches and nine clearances for Crouch is a fine day at the office, but his second half disposals were far less meaningful than those he was able to produce in the first half.

THE SWITCH

The name Patrick Ambrose is still ringing in my ears from when I compiled the Mongrel’s All-Underrated team a few weeks back. Ambrose this, Ambrose that…  and not just from Essendon supporters.

Well, it seems as though he was pretty intent on reminding me of who he was and how good he is on this evening.

With Cale Hooker moved to the forward line, Ambrose moved over to cover the most potent forward on the ground. With four goals to half time, Josh Jenkins looked as though he was capable of a bag.

And he did finish with a bag – a bag of four. Jenkins was destroyed in the second half by Ambrose, who Bomber fans assure me, has not been beaten all season. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I don’t think I saw him get beaten at all tonight. Jenkins went from potential match winner to non-entity a little too rapidly, and credit for that goes to Ambrose.

THE BAD

RORY ATKINS HAS A LOOK

I don’t care how long is left in a game – when the ball is there to be won, you have to commit your body.

In short, Rory Atkins didn’t.

You can watch it for yourself – 3.40 remaining in the last quarter. A hack kick out of the middle sees Atkins with the chance to run back onto it and take a chest mark.

He can make the distance.

He can take the mark.

He can keep his eyes on the footy.

Which of the above does he do? If you answered none, you’d be correct.

Atkins takes his eyes off the footy twice as he runs towards the contest and he ends up almost colliding with Kyle Langford as a result. The Crows got lucky and won the ball as it ricocheted out of there, but far out… he is the sort of bloke that tears it up against the Gold Coast, but won’t go against a team that’s a bit harder at it?

I’m sure he won’t like the vision. Maybe he was being called out or something by the teammate? Benefit of the doubt? Crows fans, does he get that from you?

THE UGLY

TAYLOR WALKER

If Josh Jenkins played the game Tex just did game, he’d be crucified.

I know Walker copped a nasty knock on the elbow (it looked like a hyper-extension) early in the game, and I know he kicked a lovely goal on the hands from Betts, but unless he is receiving the ball lace out, he is really struggling to find the ball.

His movement resembles that of a container ship… in the docks! If the ball hits the deck, he has no agility or acceleration at the moment, and it leads to the defence being able to clear way too easily. He looks as though he could barely jump over a piece of paper at the moment, and he cannot close the gap on an opponent if they take possession.

Zero tackles. Zero tackles between him and Josh Jenkins, but at least his counterpart had four goals.

He had a couple of those moments that were deemed “Captain’s moments”. Marks on 50 or thereabouts, and whilst I don’t pretend for a second that these are easy kicks, they are the kicks we’re used to seeing Taylor Walker convert into goals. With the Crows struggling, they needed their captain to step up, and he was unable to do it – it’s something that’s becoming a little too common.

From the outside looking in, and with my growing stomach pressing against the laptop (I’m going to the gym in the morning… shut up), I am probably the last guy that should be giving fitness advice, but Tex looks like he needs to drop five kilos and become a little more agile, because as it stands, once the ball hits the deck, he’s a liability.

 

QUICK BITS

Whilst Eddie Betts didn’t hit the scoreboard, I have to give a little credit for his commitment to the defensive side of the game. He was diligent on turnovers or kick ins, disallowing Adam Saad from anything resembling his trademark run and carry. A goal or two may have been handy, but… I’m putting this out there – if it isn’t junk time, or against Gold Coast, Eddie ain’t kicking shit.

The Bombers got a real lift from Andrew McGrath in the fourth. I still don’t know where I would put him if I sat in the Essendon coaching seat. I lean toward half back because I like his ball use and I don’t think he’s going to win enough footy in the middle, but then I see little things that sway me to thinking he is a bit of a slow burn, and will get there eventually.

Kind of regretting not having room for Brodie Smith in the good section. Three goals from a bloke who plies his trade in defence most of the time is the kind of result that should swing a game.

Is it time for Taylor Walker to be “managed” for a week? I’d like to see the forward combination of Jenkins, Betts and Greenwood function if given the space. Whilst I reckon Betts is probably now the weakest link in the Adelaide forward set up, Walker looks the least likely to impact games. Greenwood, however, does what Tex cannot, and that is take contested marks inside 50. If the Crows can get Ellis-Yolmen back into the middle, have Greenwood patrolling that forward50 and bobbing up here and there, and Jenkins on-song, things are not all lost.

Dylan Clarke on Rory Sloane – well, he stopped him getting easy ball, but I did like the fact Sloane was still working hard at stoppages, finishing with nine. Do you get the feeling Clarke may end up as a significant midfielder for the Bombers once he has learnt so much from these mids he is doing jobs on at the moment?

Very nice last stanza from Dyson Heppell, and you don’t often hear a player admit to being injured after the game. That was a gutsy performance to get out there and play, and the fact he had such a big influence with the game in the balance is more impressive, still.

So, where to next?

The Bombers get the Suns next week, who have looked out on their feet for a few weeks now. If they get hammered by Carlton, the Bombers would be smelling blood in the water, and a nice percentage boost which may come in very handy. That said, if the Suns can cause an upset over the Blues, maybe they come out with a renewed enthusiasm against the Dons… and lose by seven or eight goals. Just kidding – I want the Suns to do well, but they look spent and the Bombers should really take advantage.

The Crows… well, I don’t know what to think. I had such high hopes for this team, but their inability to finish teams is infuriating. They get Carlton in what could be a danger game, at the MCG. They have the Eagles and the Magpies in the last three weeks, so it is imperative that they notch wins over the lesser teams now.

My predictions of an Adelaide flag are looking pretty shaky – much shakier than they did at half time in this one.