Port Adelaide has endured a blowout of Essendon’s second half, posting its fifth win of the season, 9.12 (66) to 6.14 (50), making it an out-of-the-top eight match to mark the day of starts next week.
The Power led by a staggering 38 points halfway through the game, but Essendon started correcting some key kicking inaccuracies in the third quarter to narrow the margin to just 14 at the last substitution.
In the end, however, Port Adelaide held steady and took a 5-6 record in the bye, while Essendon slumped 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 seemed to be spending quite a bit of time forward early in the game, as the resting ruckmen turned on Aliir Aliir in an effort to limit the star interceptor’s influence.
Port Adelaide looked menacing early on, but it took a bad kick from Darcy Parish to score the Power’s first goal, with the ball going straight to Connor Rozee, who converted the set shot.
Essendon had a few chances in front of goal but failed to capitalize on them, making Dixon’s first goal of the season all the more impressive when the star striker took a highly contentious goal and really snapped.
Zak Butters followed with a stylish finish for Port Adelaide’s third goal of the opening quarter against the still scoreless Bombers.
Essendon’s wayward goal-scoring continued as Harrison Jones kicked the fifth deficit of the quarter.
By the quarter of an hour, Port Adelaide had a 20-point lead over the Bombers, who had fallen six behind.
A tense discussion seemed to develop between captain Dyson Heppell and star midfielder Darcy Parish en route to the quarter-time huddle.
“I think he’s just frustrated,” Jordan Lewis told Fox Footy.
“Obviously they can’t defend, they probably don’t roll around the way they’d like, because the Port Adelaide players have been able to convert the ball really well, so they’re just not good defensively I think.”
Todd Marshall got Port Adelaide off to a strong start in the second term with the sixth goal of the game, while Essendon continued to miss in front of goal – a rushed score made it eight consecutive deficits.
Marshall’s goal, in particular, came at the transition with alarming ease, seriously questioning the Bombers’ oft-criticized defensive integrity.
The Bombers finally got their first goal, with tall Andrew Phillips really kicking with a fixed shot.
Sam Powell-Pepper had the next three scores of the match, but only one of them was a goal, while Andrew McGrath delivered a classy finish on the other side to make it two goals for the Bombers.
Port Adelaide went into halftime with a 31 point lead and it started to rain during the main break.
Essendon started the third quarter well, denying the Power within the 50s in the first few minutes and adding a goal to their tally via Harrison Jones.
Powell-Pepper left Jake Kelly looking dizzy after a strong tackle saw Kelly’s head slamming into the turf, and shortly after, Zach Merrett collected with another cracking tackle.
He then had a solid collision with Draper as he continued to launch towards the ball.
It didn’t deter the Bombers though, as Nic Martin scored the squad’s second goal and narrowed the margin to 19 points.
Alec Waterman was next, taking an undisputed run in the front 50 and eating in the margins again.
Sam Durham only made it an eight point game before the Power finally started generating some forward entries.
After a few misses, the Power got a goal on the scoreboard with Trent Dumont really kicking from 50 yards.
Essendon hit the target in the last few minutes, but were unable to score another goal, leaving them 14 points behind on the final substitution.
The Power had chances to take out Essendon early in the fourth period, but it was their turn to miss in front of goal, with both sides switching in the top of the final quarter.
Ultimately, Essendon ran out of gas after pulling in the margin in the third quarter, allowing Port Adelaide to hold onto the win.
3) FLAKY BOMMER KEEP SCORES GOOD
Essendon remains a side that can score, but is far too easy to score against the other side.
Starting with the good news for Essendon fans: your side can turn it on in bursts.
In the third quarter, Essendon kicked 4.3 to Port Adelaide’s 1.4 and was exciting to watch as the Bombers played better football in wet weather than in the dry weather of the first half.
“It was their dominance in the ground ball, led by Parish, Hobbs and Durham around the center of the ground and half forward, they were fantastic,” said Jonathan Brown.
“They played a simple game and had 21 groundball kicks 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 and it started to rain.”
“They were cleaner than what they were in dry-weather football.”
The Bombers also dominated the center in the opening period, but were unable to capitalize on their opportunities.
Time for the bad news.
The Bombers were out of gas in the fourth quarter due to the gas coupons issued in the third quarter, but overall they remain alarmingly easy to score against.
“Bad defensive effort from Essendon, especially in the first 15 minutes. Port Adelaide went coast to coast a few times and you can only do that if the opponent allows you,” said Mark Ricciuto at halftime.
“Minimal pressure, lots of holes in the defence. Port Adelaide have only kicked one goal from kick-ins in the last nine games, tonight they have kicked two. That shows that Essendon’s structure is simply not good enough.
“It’s a little surprising that Ben Rutten is an All-Australian defender. They tightened in the second half of that second quarter and kind of came back to it.”
Defense remains the main concern for Essendon en route to retirement and Rutten will no doubt be tweaking some aspects of the game plan to turn the tide in the second half of the year.
2) DIXON RETURNS AND MAKES IMPACT
No one expected Charlie Dixon to set the world on fire in his first AFL game of the season, not least coach Ken Hinkley.
“To be honest, I’m happy to have him back on the side,” he told Fox Footy before the game.
“He is a big presence for us and we rely on him a lot just for pure game, not so much for points per se, but we hope it will take a few but just pure game.
“He is a real barometer for us when it comes to contested football.”
The wet conditions in the second half didn’t help Dixon, but his ability to get the ball to the ground was evident from the start.
He only had 10 disposals by the end of the game, but with that he scored two goals and had four goals.
Dixon’s return is a huge one for Port Adelaide heading into the second half of the season and he looms large above the vague expectations of the premiership.
1) YOUNG POWER COUPLE BACK IN FORM
There’s more on Connor Rozee and Zak Butters’ shoulders than maybe there should be, but the two young guns change the composition of this side when they’re on the move.
Both had a mediocre start to the year and the squad as a whole followed, before Ken Hinkley threw them to the middle more often with great success.
Still, they’re lower overall — Butters’ player rating dropped 15 percent in 2022, while Rozee’s dropped 27 percent.
“They just lack some boldness with their ball movement, Butters and Rozee are contributing to that,” said Jonathan Brown, pointing to last week’s poor performance against Geelong.
Against Essendon, there were signs that both were getting back into good form.
Butters finished with a goal – doubling his number in 2022 – with 24 disposals, two goal assists and seven goals, while Rozee also topped the scoreboard with a major to go with 24 disposals, nine goals and an assist.
Essendon lets you roam freely at times, but it’s the perfect fit for the couple heading into the winter months.
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