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Match report: Crows close on minor premiership

Nick Bowen  August 12, 2017 11:30 PM

Highlights: Essendon v Adelaide The Bombers and Crows clash in round 21
AFL 2017 Round 21 - Essendon v Adelaide

Richard Douglas kicked two goals in the win over Essendon

ADELAIDE has strengthened its hold on top spot and all but guaranteed itself a home qualifying final with an impressive 43-point win over Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.

The Crows set up their win with seven consecutive goals from midway through the second term that put them 44 points up by the 12-minute mark of the third term.

Full match coverage and stats

The Bombers threated to get back into the game at times but never got closer than 19 points, and in the end could not match the Crows' class.

And with four of the game's last five goals the Crows stretched the final score to 18.15 (123) to 12.8 (80).

Adelaide is now a game and a half clear of second-placed Greater Western Sydney with two rounds remaining, and two games and a whopping 27 percentage points ahead of Geelong in third.

Five talking points: Essendon v Adelaide

Even if the Crows lose their final two games against Sydney (Adelaide Oval) and West Coast (Domain Stadium), the Cats would need a football miracle to make up their percentage deficit in their remaining matches against Collingwood and GWS.

Adelaide's victory was its fourth win in a row against the Bombers but it had to work harder for this victory, its previous three having come by an average margin of 86 points.

Matt Crouch (a game-high 35 possessions and seven clearances) was the Crows' prime mover through the midfield and was well supported by Richard Douglas (23 possessions and two goals) and Brodie Smith (23 possessions and two goals), while defender Luke Brown held Essendon danger man Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti goalless.

Josh Jenkins (3.2 and 11 marks, four contested) killed off Essendon's faint hopes of victory with two last-quarter goals, while Taylor Walker (two goals, seven marks and five inside 50s) was at his creative best in attack.

The Adelaide skipper provided one of the night's highlights with a brilliant centering pass late in the third term that set up a Smith goal that broke a run of four consecutive Essendon majors.

Adelaide coach Don Pyke was pleased with his team's ability to respond to Essendon's challenges throughout the night.

"It was an interesting game. It sort of ebbed and flowed a fair bit and there was never a lot between the teams. There were probably a couple of times where Essendon really surged on us and were able to kick two or three (goals) pretty quickly, which kept it close, and they're the sort of side that can score quickly, so we knew we had to be on our mettle," Pyke said.

"The way Essendon were playing, they were clearly threatening when they were going forward, but our ability to still rebound and probably ask them some questions in defence was important, because it kept the board ticking over for us.

"It was a night where we were challenged in a number of ways and I thought we just found a way in the end."

Essendon's loss means it is no longer in control of its own destiny with regard to making the finals.

The Bombers are now 10th on the ladder and can fall to 11th if St Kilda beats Melbourne by a narrow margin at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Bombers will start favourites against Gold Coast and Fremantle over the final two rounds, but will have to rely on some of the teams above them slipping up.

Essendon coach John Worsfold said his team had allowed the Crows to score too easily, but would take away some key lessons away from the match.

"(There were) areas of our game we learned that we're not quite at the elite level yet, so that's probably always the bonus of playing the team that at round 21 is premiership favourite and on top of the ladder," Worsfold said.

"You find out your shortfalls, where you've got to keep improving. Our ball use wasn't as good as theirs. We messed up a few opportunities to get forward and score where we either had the ball smothered or missed a handball or fumbled, and they were at a higher level than us in that regard.

"And just some of our contest work. I think we were still second to the ball compared to them, and in the air as well they were more committed in the real hard contests."

The Bombers' best moments on Saturday night came through their twin towers in attack, Joe Daniher and Cale Hooker.

Daniher kicked the opening three goals of the second quarter to turn a 19-point quarter-time deficit into a one-point lead after 10 minutes of play.

And when the Crows looked on track for a percentage booster, Hooker stepped up with three goals in the third term – two from outside 50m – as part of a four-goal Bomber run that brought them back within 19 points.

Hooker kicked another booming goal in the final term as the Bombers kicked the opening two goals to cut the Crows' lead to 21 points inside nine minutes of play.

Daniher finished on three goals to take his season tally to 59, just one goal behind West Coast spearhead Josh Kennedy.

Michael Hurley (34 possessions and eight marks) was outstanding for Essendon in defence, while first-year defender Andy McGrath was handed the daunting job on Eddie Betts, but rose to the occasion, finishing with 25 possessions while holding the Crows star to just seven possessions and a lone behind.

Betts produced a rare piece of magic midway through the second quarter. Taking the ball near the boundary line, Betts tapped it over McGrath, ducked out of play and around the Bomber, darted back into play, gathered his own tap on the full and shot off a pass to teammate Rory Atkins.

Betts' pass only went five metres but Atkins had time to kick long and find Tom Lynch. The hard-running forward then converted with a clever around-the-body snap, but the goal belonged to Betts.

Dons great Jobe Watson had a quiet night after announcing his retirement this week, but sent the Bombers faithful into a frenzy midway through the third term when he goaled from 50m.

Essendon: Joe Daniher hurt a finger in the third quarter and came off the ground. But he returned soon after having it strapped and finished the match.

Adelaide: Taylor Walker came from the ground in the first quarter to have his right foot assessed and, again, had treatment at quarter-time. But the Crows captain started on the ground at the start of the second term and played out the game strongly. "He was just a bit sore in the foot. He got jammed up a bit in the first quarter, so he was greenlighted to continue, which was fine," Crows coach Don Pyke said after game. Rory Sloane came from ground late in the third quarter after accidentally kicking Bomber defender Matt Dea's leg and went into the rooms for assessment. The star midfielder returned at the start of the final term with his left knee strapped and played out the game. "He just jammed his knee up a little bit, but he was able to play the last quarter," Pyke said. The Crows coach said it would be hard to tell the extent of both players' injuries until they were assessed on Sunday, but was hopeful they would be available next round. 

The Bombers will travel to the Gold Coast to take on the Suns next Saturday night, having lost two of the teams' three clashes at Metricon Stadium.

The Crows have a six-day break ahead of a home Friday night clash against Sydney. The Crows have lost five of their past six games against the Swans, but have split their two matches at the Adelaide Oval.

ESSENDON     2.2       5.4       9.7       12.8 (80)
ADELAIDE       5.3       10.6     14.9     18.15 (123)

Essendon: Hooker 4, Daniher 3, Stewart 2, McKenna, Watson, Colyer
Adelaide: Jenkins 3, McGovern 3, Douglas 2, Walker 2, Smith 2, Greenwood, Lynch, Knight, Atkins, Mackay, B.Crouch

Essendon: Hurley, McGrath, Hooker, Daniher, Zaharakis, Leuenberger
Adelaide:  M.Crouch, Douglas, Smith, Jenkins, Atkins, Sloane

Essendon: Daniher (finger)
Adelaide: Walker (ankle), Sloane (left leg)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Dalgleish, Williamson, Pannell

Official crowd: 38,487 at Etihad Stadium