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Tigers down feisty Dons in scrappy contest

Highlights: Essendon v Richmond The Bombers and Tigers clash in round 22
Ben Lennon takes a strong mark on Saturday night - ${keywords}
Ben Lennon takes a strong mark on Saturday night

RICHMOND'S pursuit of a top-four spot remains within reach after the Tigers overcame a dogged Essendon line-up on Saturday night, winning by 27 points at the MCG.

In wet and slippery conditions, the Bombers made the Tigers work hard for the 10.14 (74) to 7.5 (47) victory in veteran Paul Chapman's final AFL game.

Damien Hardwick's team wasn't at its best (the Bombers won the contested possession and tackle count), but could have sealed the win earlier if not for inaccuracy in front of goal.

The win sees the Tigers join the Western Bulldogs and fourth-placed Sydney Swans on 56 points, although Richmond will need to rely on the Swans unexpectedly dropping one of their final two games (against St Kilda and Gold Coast) to grab the double chance.

Five talking points: Essendon v Richmond

If they don't, the Tigers' healthy percentage (121.4 per cent) all but confirms they will host an elimination final in the first week of the finals, against North Melbourne or Adelaide.  

The performances of Tigers youngsters Ben Lennon and Kamdyn McIntosh would have been most pleasing for the club, with both among Richmond's best in the workmanlike win.

McIntosh's 27 disposals were the most for his team and were influential, including one miracle run of soccer-kicks that ended in an important third-quarter goal for Dustin Martin.

Lennon, in his seventh consecutive game, had 16 classy disposals and took nine marks in a polished display. The second-year forward has added some extra finish to Richmond's forward half in the past two months since earning his spot at senior level. 

Brandon Ellis (24 disposals) was consistent, while Brett Deledio stood up when his team called on him, the star midfielder booting two goals from 22 touches.

Deledio ended the game sore, however, after being slung to the ground by Bomber Courtenay Dempsey in the final minutes.

 

Dempsey's dangerous tackle is sure to attract scrutiny from the Match Review Panel, given Deledio had dropped the ball well before being slammed into the turf.

Hardwick said the Tigers didn't start well and let Essendon get the early jump, but was happy with how his team maturely reeled them in.

"It was always going to be an arm wrestle. The conditions were pretty horrid out there for a period of time. Any time there's 160-odd contested ball (each), it's tight and tough," he said.

"To get away with a 30-point win, we take it on the night."

Despite nothing riding on the result, the Bombers stayed competitive. The conditions seemed to work in their favour, as they simplified what has been a confusing game plan this year to send the ball forward at all costs.

Cale Hooker kicked three goals against star Richmond defender Alex Rance to take his tally to 18 majors since round 14, while at the other end of the ground Michael Hurley kept Richmond spearhead Jack Riewoldt under wraps.

Stand-in coach Matthew Egan said the Bombers were pleased with the effort shown against the top-four hopefuls.

"It felt like we were in the game a fair bit, but we probably just didn’t capitalise when we had our chances," he said post-game.

The Bombers' energy was clear early on. Conor McKenna opened the scoring five minutes into the opening term, kicking Essendon's first goal with his first kick in the AFL.

 

It was fitting the Irishman did not have to wait long before he made an impact.

His football career has been in turbo mode after playing the first game of football in his life just last year, being flown to Australia, scouted by several clubs, choosing the Bombers and then developing this season in the VFL.

His right-foot checkside goal from close range was the highlight of a scrappy and low-scoring opening term, which Essendon won by three points.

The tide looked set to turn in Richmond's favour when Ty Vickery kicked two goals in as many minutes early in the second quarter, but the Bombers remained stoic.

 

Stand-in skipper Dyson Heppell and Brent Stanton were busy with more than 30 disposals between them to half-time, but the class of Lennon in attack (he had seven marks and 12 touches at the main break) and skill of Deledio helped Richmond to a four-point lead.

The Tigers extended it to 16 points at the final change and kicked three goals to one in the final term to bump up their percentage a little more. It again exposed the Bombers' lack of firepower in attack, and was the 13th game this season they have failed to kick more than 10 goals.

SHOWREEL: Chappy's final fling

But for the Tigers it was just a tune-up. They did what they needed to do with a minimum of fuss and with their captain Trent Cotchin watching from the stands nursing a sore back. For Hardwick, Cotchin and the rest of the yellow and black army, much bigger things await. 

Bachar Houli keeps Brendon Goddard at bay on Saturday night. Picture: AFL Media


ESSENDON   2.0      5.0      6.2      7.5   (47)
RICHMOND  1.4      4.10    7.12    10.14   (74)          

GOALS
Essendon: Hooker 3, McKenna, McKernan, Howlett, Dempsey
Richmond: Vickery 2, Deledio 2, Maric, Martin, Thomas, Grigg, Miles, Edwards

BEST 
Essendon: Heppell, Hurley, Hooker, McKernan, Stanton, O'Brien
Richmond: McIntosh, Lennon, Thomas, Deledio, Houli

INJURIES 
Essendon: Nil
Richmond: Deledio (possible concussion)

SUBSTITUTES
Essendon: Jackson Merrett replaced Conor McKenna at three-quarter time.
Richmond: Sam Lloyd replaced Chris Newman in the third quarter.

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Hosking, Schmitt, Ryan

Official crowd: 37,864 at the MCG.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs