ESSENDON has delivered a complete performance and justified its ladder-leading start to the season, dismantling St Kilda to win by 37 points in a spiteful clash at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
The undefeated Bombers were clinical in their fourth win this season, building their lead at every change to win 19.14 (128) to 13.13 (91) in Brendon Goddard's first game against his old club.
The brilliant win could come at a cost, however, with key forward Michael Hurley subbed off in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
Hurley was one of the Bombers' stars, kicking three goals and taking eight marks before he injured his left ankle in an innocuous incident halfway through the third term.
Injury aside, there were positives all over the ground for the Bombers, who will take significant momentum into Thursday's blockbuster Anzac Day clash against Collingwood.
Perhaps most pleasing was key forward Scott Gumbleton's impact with four goals after half-time.
Essendon's dominance started in the midfield, where Goddard asserted himself after pushing forward to kick the opening goal of the game.
There was plenty of feeling between Goddard and his former teammates,
and he let his emotions out in an on-ground interview post-match saying: "I love the footy club and it meant so much to me … I don't want to see them lose."
He was a constant threat for his new club, cutting through the Saints with precise ball use and winning 13 of his 23 possessions in contests.
On the outside, Dyson Heppell, Brent Stanton and Michael Hibberd ran tirelessly with the Bombers finishing the match with 87 more possessions than their opponents.
"I thought our intensity around the ball was good and that was reflected in the contested possessions (176-135)," coach James Hird said.
"It showed that we were up and about today."
Forward Stewart Crameri was a late withdrawal for the Bombers with a knee complaint, and star midfielder Jobe Watson spent more time forward as a result, kicking two goals.
The captain still had an enormous impact when up the ground, winning a game-high 37 possessions (18 contested) in a best-on-ground performance.
The Saints just weren't up to the task in the heaviest of their three defeats this season, with the match effectively over halfway through the third quarter when the Bombers' lead hit a game-high 53 points.
Coach Scott Watters said his team had received a "lesson around the contest".
"They looked bigger … they were able to strip the ball back off us but we couldn't get the ball back off them," he said post-match.
"They were very clean.
"Having said that, we had two or three missed opportunities, it very easily could have been almost level at half time.
"They were certainly the better side on the night though."
The Saints also face a short five-day turnaround ahead of a historic Anzac Day clash against the Sydney Swans in New Zealand.
Midfielders David Armitage (19 possessions) and Clint Jones (31) battled hard, while Sam Fisher and Dylan Roberton offered some bounce out of the back half.
Nick Riewoldt kicked three goals, and Beau Maister kicked two in a strong start before fading.
The Saints made two late changes to their side, with young midfielder Seb Ross and forward Trent Dennis-Lane coming in to replace Tom Lee and Arryn Siposs.
ST KILDA 3.2 5.6 9.9 13.13 (91)
ESSENDON 6.2 10.7 15.8 19.14 (128)
Riewoldt 3, Maister 2, Saad 2, Dennis-Lane 2, Gilbert, Milne, Armitage, Steven,
Gumbleton 4, Hurley 3, Davey 2, Stanton 2, Watson 2, Bellchambers 2, Dempsey, Goddard, Howlett, Merrett
Riewoldt, Armitage, Fisher, Roberton, Jones
Watson, Heppell, Gumbleton, Hurley, Goddard, Hibberd, Stanton, Myers, Zaharakis
Hurley (ankle), Stewart Crameri (knee) replaced in selected side by Scott Gumbleton
Sebastian Ross replaced Terry Milera in the third quarter
Jason Winderlich replaced Michael Hurley (ankle) in the third quarter
Dalgleish, Chamberlain, Ryan
46,965 at Etihad Stadium
Nathan Schmook is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nathan