For the second week in a row, Adelaide Oval, housing 20,000 passionate supporters, played host to the Adelaide Football Club’s search for its first victory of season 2020. Their opponents this time were a resurgent Bombers, a team sitting just outside top eight, but needing a win to climb back in and cement themselves as a genuine finals contender.
It was a game that ebbed and flowed with both sides playing fast, attractive football, and neither side had the ascendancy for long periods of the contest. Adelaide had their chances in the last quarter to finally get their first win, but failed to nail the final goal they needed, and the Bombers held on to cling to a season-defining win.
Here’s is the Mongrel’s review of Essendon’s nail biting three point victory over the Crows.
THE BACK STORY
In the Matthew Nicks era, the Adelaide Crows have been an absolute basket case. Zero victories from seven matches, consistent on-field mediocrity and off-field drama at every turn, the leaders at West Lakes have a huge task on their hands to resurrect this once great club. Supporters and media alike are calling for heads to roll, particularly CEO Andrew Fagan and Chairman Rob Chapman; the two men who have overseen the club through its most controversial moments, and list manager Justin Reid; the man who put the current list together and in some ways is responsible for the ordinary on-field performances.
Essendon, on the other hand, has been a positive story in season 2020. Conor McKenna’s COVID situation was an issue, but in reality, the Bombers suffered for one of its players making a bad decision, and it is unfair to put all the hatred on the football club itself. Sitting with four wins from six games and with a game in hand thanks to McKenna’s indiscretion, the Bombers are in a strong position to attack the second half of the season and push towards finals. Essendon’s only real blight was the loss against the Bulldogs, and they play fast attacking football that many of us love to watch.
What a start to the contest! One minute into the game, and stand-in skipper Tom Doedee stamped his authority with a crunching bump on Will Snelling, leaving the young Bomber gasping for air and Doedee showing the supporters in attendance the Crows had come to play.
The rest of the quarter could only be described as a dog fight. Both sides had their chances to take control, but it was the Bombers who appeared the better team, and their midfielders had the Crows measure for clearances. It was an attractive start to the game, even though both teams have their issues with disposal by foot. Trying to play on at all costs, it was the Crows who took the chances when presented, and their forward line led by Taylor Walker nailed goals to stay with Essendon, despite being behind on inside 50s and clearances.
The dogfight continued after quarter time, as both teams lost key players. With Brad Crouch sitting on the bench, Adelaide’s clearance work took a nosedive, and the Bombers class shone through. The Crows had to dig deep to stay in the contest, and they were lucky that Essendon didn’t take the opportunities they created. Adelaide hung with the Bombers as well as they could, but Essendon had the Crows on the ropes, and it seemed only a matter of time before the dam wall burst. Half time came and went, with Matt Crouch and Jacob Townsend on report for a bizarre clashing of heads incident.
The injuries kept coming in the third quarter, with Kyle Langford sustaining a minor quad injury, and Tom Doedee being ruled out with a hamstring injury. Essendon started the second half just as they finished the second quarter, dominating the clearances and making life difficult for a now undermanned Adelaide defence. Kicking away to a three goal lead, the Bombers had Adelaide on life support and looked on their way to a commanding victory. Missing their leaders proved telling however, as complacency kicked in for Essendon, and it allowed the Crows to claw their way back. Spurred on by the crowd, and playing a passionate, hard-running brand of football, Adelaide fixed their issues with clearances and their efforts moving the ball forward generated scoring opportunities that the Bombers couldn’t defend. It wasn’t perfect, and there was a clear lack of polish that the top teams have, but the Crows had fought hard all day, and an upset looked on the cards, with Adelaide only a goal down going into the final quarter.
Adelaide had momentum and started the last quarter full of enthusiasm. Dominating the inside 50 count, and taking control of the clearances, the Crows came at the Bombers like a train. Poor kicking at goal cost them last week, and it proved to be so once again, with Adelaide only nailing one goal from seven chances and despite having more of the ball, the Bombers kept holding the Crows at bay. Essendon too had their chances to ice the game, but the arm wrestle continued deep into red time. As the game drew to a close, the Crows kept coming, but couldn’t get a final goal to push themselves ahead, and with 15 seconds left to run, Brodie Smith had a shot for goal that sailed out of bounds, sealing the game for the Bombers.
THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH
Let’s start in the winner’s backline, and it was an intercepting masterclass from two players at the opposite end of their careers. Veteran Michael Hurley and young gun Jordan Ridley controlled the air magnificently for the Bombers, and their presence in Adelaide’s forward half made life difficult for the Crows. Both Ridley and Hurley were equally as good rebounding as they were stopping their direct opponents, with Ridley gathering 18 disposals, all but one of which were effective and he amassed 340 metres gained. Hurley was even better, with all of his 15 possessions being effective. The defensive pair took 13 marks between them, highlighting the dominance displaying by two players quickly coming into consideration for the rolling All Australian Team.
Although Hurley won the battle, Crows forward Taylor Walker put together his best performance of the season. Kicking two goals, Walker was a constant threat all day, and his aggression, which some said had deserted him for good, returned as the Crows pressed hard for victory. When the ball was on the ground, it was Lachlan Murphy that was the main beneficiary, and his defensive pressure to keep the ball locked in the Crows forward 50 was excellent. Kicking three goals, and being involved in three more, Murphy also produced his best game of the season, and both he and Walker showed their importance to the Crows forward six, and when Adelaide do inevitably taste victory at some stage this year, it will be on the back of this forward duo.
In the middle, and it was the Zach Merrett show for the Bombers. Amassing 33 possessions, nine marks, six tackles, eight score involvements and 613 metres gained, Merrett was everywhere in a complete performance, consistently feeding off Tom Bellchambers’ work in the ruck. Andrew McGrath and Darcy Parish played excellent support roles, both players growing into their respective midfield roles in Dylan Shiel and Dyson Heppell’s absence. McGrath was particularly brilliant, his 25 disposals, 12 of which were contested, steadily helped Parish move the ball forward. Parish was the outside runner to Merrett and McGrath’s inside work, and his 22 disposals gave Essendon six score involvements and five inside 50s.
For the Crows, two players in particular deserve recognition. Brodie Smith was the standout player for the Crows, and his work up and down the wings was the main reason the Crows came so close to getting their first victory. Amassing 24 disposals (19 kicks, five handballs) Smith was his team’s best ball mover, and registered a game high 10 inside 50s, eight score involvements and mammoth 705 metres gained. Matt Crouch, after copping slightly unfair criticism for his performance against St Kilda, got his groove going and returned to his best form. Gathering 26 disposals, Crouch went at 84% efficiency, had eight score involvements, five clearances and 346 metres gained. It was a complete turnaround from his average performance against the Saints, and showed that at his best, the younger Crouch is one of the best midfielders in competition.
Forward of the ball for the Bombers, and it was a complete performance from the front six. Shaun McKernan was well held by underrated Daniel Talia, and in his absence, up stepped Kyle Langford. Undersized for a key forward, Langford was a marking machine, and the Crows did not have an answer for his agility. Gathering 19 disposals, and kicking two goals, Langford’s quad injury in the third quarter opened the door for the Crows to attack the scoreboard while the Bombers struggled to find a replacement in Essendon’s forward 50. While he only amassed 13 touches, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was a consistent threat, and work when the ball went to ground was a highlight throughout the contest. Together with Langford and second gamer Ned Cahill, McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked two important goals.
Young Crow Andrew McPherson was the man chosen to replace Tom Doedee when the skipper left the field, and it was like the Crows leader never left, with McPherson stepping up brilliantly. Registering a game high six rebounds from defensive 50, McPherson was his team’s main avenue out of the Crows defensive half. Rory Laird was his usual brilliant self, gathering 21 disposals at a staggering 95% efficiency. Amassing five defensive rebounds, Laird also ventured through the midfield and he performed his role by giving his teammates a rest while Laird did some grunt work.
THE NERVOUS MEN
This was as tight a contest as we’ve seen all season, and both sides had the momentum at various points of the match. Given the multiple injuries sustained by both sides, it would be fair to assume that any player on the chopping block is likely to earn a reprieve, there are players from both sides that would be disappointed by their output and would be looking forward to training the house down in an effort to retain their place in the team.
Starting with the losers, and it seems that while Nicks will persist with his youngsters given the rebuilding phase he is embarking on, time may be running out for a select few of the players of the Crows future. Chayce Jones was handed a golden opportunity to impress the coaching staff in Brad Crouch’s absence, but he failed to have any impact on the game, struggling to find the football, and turning it over when he did. Jones’ stats are down from his debut year, and although he is still just 20 years of age, he will need to quickly improve he is to retain his place. Elliott Himmelberg too failed to impress in his second game of the season, gathering eight disposals and failing to hit the scoreboard. Fischer McAsey has played every game this season but so far has struggled, and Shane McAdam is the weak link of his forward line duo with Tyson Stengle that has replaced Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron.
Given the Bombers were victorious, John Worsfold will likely decide to retain the same team, with the exception of the injured stars. Having said that, if he were to swing the axe, certain players will be looking to atone for sub-par performances on the training track during the week and face a nervous wait to see if they’ve made the team come Thursday’s selection. Martin Gleeson’s role as a defensive rebounder has been taken over by Mason Redman, and as such his output has decreased from previous seasons. Playing in his fourth game of the season, Gleeson had a day to forget, gathering just seven disposals at a mediocre 57% efficiency. Last season, Gleeson averaged 17 touches; this year it has dropped to 11, and if he is to retain his place in Worsfold’s team, he will need to improve his numbers and quickly. Devon Smith too struggled to impact the game through the midfield and in occasional stints forward. Gathering just 13 disposals at 53%, Smith’s usual tackling pressure was nowhere to be found, and he registered five clangers, all of which occurred under minimal pressure.
Unfortunately, it was another week in which the Crows had their chances to get on the board in season 2020, but a lack of polish cost them dearly. For the victorious Bombers, this has cemented their position inside the top 8 with a game in hand, and with several star players still to come back into the side. There are certainly aspects of their game that need improving, and if they are to score their first finals win since 2004, John Worsfold will need to slightly alter their game plan to challenge the top sides in the competition.
In the end, the one thing this game proved to everyone in the AFL world is that the Crows will register a victory at some stage this season, and with performances like this, it will happen sooner rather than later. Matthew Nicks will need to stick to his guns at the selection table, as his players need both experience and the taste of victory to prosper this season and beyond. An opportunity for victory awaits the Crows next week against a faltering North Melbourne, and Nicks will be hoping his team can reproduce the performance they showed here against the Bombers.