Marcus Bontempelli celebrates a goal for the Western Bulldogs against Essendon in R19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

THE WESTERN Bulldogs have strengthened their finals chances and landed a blow to Essendon's own September aspirations with a run-away 41-point win on Friday night.

A dominant second half from the Dogs made it nine wins from their last 10 outings against the battered Bombers, recording 13.12 (90) to 7.7 (49) under the roof of Marvel Stadium.

BOMBERS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats

Tried and true Bulldogs Marcus Bontempelli (29 disposals, two goals, 645 metres gained) and Tom Liberatore (36 disposals, 13 clearances, four tackles) were instrumental in their side's important victory, while a quad injury to important Essendon defender Jordan Ridley spells danger for his side's run to finals.


It was the Bulldogs' ninth win from 10 games against the Bombers since Luke Beveridge took over as coach in 2015.

A fast start from Essendon, which kicked the opening goal via Peter Wright within just 19 seconds, failed to set the tone in a sluggish first quarter.

It was essentially a game of kick-to-kick between the arcs for much of the term with neither team ready or willing to take the game on, instead moving slowly – too slowly – and allowing defensive units to set up impenetrable walls at either end.


Coming into the game, 60 per cent of Essendon's possession this season had been registered in its defensive half, and that trend continued with Mason Redman, Ridley and Dyson Heppell each gathering 10 touches in the first quarter as they worked a short kicking, switching style out of defence.

They continued that method in the back half across the course of the game and, as a result Essendon's four leading ball winners were all defenders; Ridley (29), Jayden Laverde (27), Redman (28) and Andrew McGrath (26).

The impact of Bontempelli couldn't be denied though, as the Dogs captain was the first to add some pace and power to the game. Charging up the corridor and taking a flying shot on goal late in the quarter, it faded left but changed the tone of the match.


All of a sudden, both teams played with urgency and dare and worked to pick off options through the corridor or run for the handball receive. But it was only the Dogs who were willing to persist with such an aggressive, attacking style for the rest of the match.

The Bulldogs were a team reborn in the second term as they moved the ball quickly and became unpredictable to Essendon's defence. Added to this, they were finding some control in the air, taking some strong - at times lucky - contested marks, but often making the most of the shift in pace.


Essendon, on the other hand, was panicked and sucked into overusing the footy and succumbing to the Dogs' pressure, but remained in touch until the final term by virtue of its reliable intercept markers behind the footy.

They closed the gap to just 14 points via a Matt Guelfi goal early in the final quarter, but the Dogs kicked the last four majors of the game to kill the contest.


Andrew Phillips (34 hitouts) worked hard to give his midfielders first use, but ultimately the Dogs' midfield won out, registering 48 clearances to the Bombers' 26, with Darcy Parish responsible for nine of those for Essendon.

With their fate still in their own hands, Essendon has dropped out of the top eight and could fall as low as 12th on the ladder by the end of the weekend.


The curious case of Bailey Smith
An exciting young player down on confidence, Bulldog Bailey Smith returned to the side after missing last week with illness. But he did what those searching for that spark once more are best advised: he brought the pressure. Not necessarily winning as much of his own footy early, or breaking lines as we have come to expect of him, Smith was laying textbook tackle after textbook tackle, often resulting in a holding the ball free kick. Smith registered 25 disposals, six clearances and six tackles for the night in a promising return.


How do you stop Libba?
All season, Tom Liberatore has acted as the engine room for the Bulldogs. Often finding first possession, his ability to spread and attack has caught many an opponent out. In games gone past, the use of a tagger on Liberatore has proven fruitful – last week's efforts by James Rowbottom the most recent example – yet the Bombers refused to assign anyone in a shut-down role. Crafty forward Jake Stringer, youngster Archie Perkins and former Giant Jye Caldwell all spent some time on the Bulldog but struggled to limit his influence on the game.

Tom Liberatore wins the ball for the Western Bulldogs against Essendon in R19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Super sub
As Andrew Phillips went head-to-head with in-form Bulldogs ruck Tim English, emerging Bomber Nick Bryan struggled to make an impact alongside Phillips. Once Brad Scott pulled the trigger to bring sub Nick Hind into the game for Bryan, the dashing small had three possessions within his first minute on the ground, setting up a Nik Cox set shot. Hind added a much-needed spark around the half forward arc for the home side, ending the night with eight disposals and two score involvements from his 31 per cent time on ground.

Nick Hind during the match between Essendon and Geelong in R19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON      3.2    5.3    6.5   7.7 (49)
WESTERN BULLDOGS      1.3    7.5    9.7   13.12 (90)

Essendon: Wright 3, Langford 2, Merrett, Guelfi
Western Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan 3, Weightman 3, Bontempelli 2, Scott, Naughton, West, Baker, Treloar

Essendon: Ridley, Martin, Langford, Merrett, Parish
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Liberatore, Smith, Treloar, Daniel

Essendon: Ridley (right quad)
Western Bulldogs: Nil

Essendon: Nick Hind (replaced Nick Bryan in the third quarter)
Western Bulldogs: Bailey Williams (replaced Oskar Baker in the final quarter)

Crowd: 43,634