Highlights: Essendon v Richmond
The Bombers and Tigers clash in round 23
Trent Cotchin was one of the Tigers best against Essendon on Saturday night
RICHMOND has taken a stranglehold on fifth place with a comfortable 39-point win over Essendon in a lacklustre contest at the MCG on Saturday night.
The 15.14 (104) to 9.11 (65) victory in front of 60,979 fans gives the Tigers a four-point buffer plus percentage over Collingwood, and sets up a likely blockbuster elimination final against Carlton next Sunday.
But it was not all good news for Damien Hardwick's team, with speedster Matt White subbed off with what was initially feared to be a hamstring injury.
However, Hardwick said after the match that the problem was back tightness, and that White remained a chance to play in the club's first final since 2001.
The Tigers coach congratulated his players on breaking the September drought, but urged them not to be satisfied with the year's achievements to date.
"We spoke in our meeting that one season is finished, 15-7, great result, and another season starts," Hardwick said post-match
"That's the feeling we want at our footy club.
"We need to maintain that our standards are now to drive through this finals season; wherever that takes us will be."
Essendon stayed in touch throughout an uninspiring and largely uncontested first half, before the Tigers started to dominate contested ball after half-time, breaking the game open with six goals to two in the third quarter.
They held a 37-point lead at three-quarter-time, and had no trouble maintaining that buffer throughout the final term.
Forward duo Tyrone Vickery and Aaron Edwards both booted four goals for the winners, forming a strong combination in the absence of injured spearhead Jack Riewoldt.
Young midfielder Brandon Ellis found it too easy to find space, racking up 35 disposals – 34 of them uncontested – as he worked tirelessly up and down the ground.
While Ellis and Dustin Martin ran amok on the outside, Daniel Jackson, Trent Cotchin and Reece Conca were outstanding in-and-under.
The Bombers had few standout players, and clearly struggled to find their best form in the wake of their disqualification from the finals earlier this week.
"The difficult thing is, when you do get challenged in games, there comes a time when you've actually got to play for something, and we probably got to that stage during the third quarter where it got a little bit too hard for us," he said.
"In saying that, our effort continued on, but we just were unable to get the ball back from Richmond.
"Their foot skills were outstanding."
Jake Melksham gave his all, collecting 20 disposals and booting two goals.
However, the emerging midfielder may be at risk of missing the start of next season after elbowing Jackson to the head during the third quarter.
The Tiger left the ground with blood from both nostrils after the incident, although it appeared he ducked into Melksham's forearm.
Forwards Michael Hurley and Leroy Jetta also booted two goals for Essendon, while Brent Stanton found plenty of the ball through the midfield.
Retiring veterans Nathan Lovett-Murray and David Hille were useful contributors in their farewell AFL games.
Big man Jake Carlisle had to be subbed from the game during the third quarter after suffering severe back spasms.
The Magpies will need to thrash North Melbourne on Sunday if they are to jump above Richmond into fifth.
If that happens, the Tigers' elimination final will be against Port Adelaide on Saturday night.
With their year from hell over, Goodwin – leading the team in the absence of the now-suspended James Hird – gathered Bombers players in the middle of the ground after the final siren, before taking them for a lap of the boundary to thank the club's fans
The red and black army responded with a rousing standing ovation.
Essendon players recognised the support of their fans at the end of the game. Picture: AFL Media
ESSENDON 2.4 3.6 5.8 9.11 (65)
RICHMOND 4.1 5.6 11.9 15.14 (104)
Essendon: Melksham 2, Jetta 2, Hurley 2, Lovett-Murray, Howlett, Dalgleish
Richmond: Vickery 4, A. Edwards 4, Jackson 2, King 2, Martin, Grigg, Tuck
Essendon: Melksham, Hurley, Stanton, Hibberd, Lovett-Murray
Richmond: Jackson, Ellis, A. Edwards, Vickery, Martin
Essendon: Carlisle (back spasms)
Richmond: White (back tightness), King (cut head)
Essendon: Leroy Jetta substituted on for Jake Carlisle (back spasms) in the third quarter
Richmond: Shane Tuck substituted on for Matt White (hamstring) at half time
Umpires: Donlon, Farmer, Dalgleish
Official crowd: 60,979 at the MCG