WEST Coast has upset Essendon by four points, recording a much-needed win in windy conditions while denting the Bombers' finals chances.
Two early goals with the breeze held the Eagles in good stead for the day as they utilised their scoreboard advantage and tackling prowess to record a 3.5 (23) to 2.7 (19) victory at Windy Hill.
BOMBERS v EAGLES Full match coverage and stats
In front of their vocal faithful, the home side struggled to convert, ultimately failing to find an avenue to goal until it was too late.
Emma Swanson (25 disposals, 12 tackles, eight clearances) showed her maturity as she injected both class and energy into the Eagles' midfield, while Maddy Prespakis (30 disposals, 11 tackles, nine clearances) was once again a force to be reckoned with around stoppages.
West Coast dominated forward 50 territory on the back of its ferocity at stoppage, recording the first four inside 50 entries and the first seven clearances of the game, bouncing back from a challenging round seven match-up against reigning premier Narrm.
Aisling McCarthy and Amy Franklin set the tone with two goals in the first five minutes, but Essendon was not short of answers as Prespakis worked her way into the contest.
The Eagles, however, utilised their tackling prowess to propel the ball forward even when second to the ball. As a result, most of the game was played in the Eagles' forward half early, reflecting the high workrate of a side desperately seeking victory.
Both Jess Sedunary and Beth Schilling succumbed to injury early for the Eagles, however they showed no signs of slowing down, stringing together a four-quarter effort for the first time in a long time.
Essendon's stoppage dominance has been its strength all year but it was largely unable to overcome the Eagles in the contest early. Natalie Wood's side was kept goalless in the first quarter, a feat achieved by only ladder-leading Adelaide so far this season.
The Bombers were unable to escape the wrath of the Eagles, struggling to find space, time and composure despite dominating possession at multiple stages throughout the contest. While struggling to battle the wind, the absence of Daria Bannister also seemed to hamper their ability to find an outlet and limited their run and carry.
Star forward Bonnie Toogood came in as the competition leader for marks, but Sophie McDonald restricted her ability to find space while the wind affected the Bombers' ability to provide her with their usual delivery. The importance of the captain's influence came to the fore in the fourth term, which saw her register Essendon's first goal.
West Coast's young gun Ella Roberts (16 disposals, three marks) showed class and composure through the middle – assisting Kellie Gibson's game-breaking goal – while Georgia Nanscawen (21 disposals, 17 tackles, six clearances) continued to prove her importance to the Bombers' midfield.
The Bombers rose to the challenge in the final term as they began to influence the game from the centre, but it was too little, too late as classy goals from Toogood and Amber Clarke weren't enough to get the home side over the line.
Following a week of headlines and scrutiny, the Eagles displayed both their camaraderie and composure. The young side stuck together and came out with eagerness, proving that their best is certainly good enough … as long as they're not facing the reigning premier. After being solidly beaten around the ball last week, they matched Essendon – the fourth best clearance team in competition – at the stoppage for the better part of the game.
First to react
The Eagles gained momentum following their early ascendency, which largely came on the back of adapting to the conditions. They utilised the wind to their advantage while the Bombers were unable to adjust with the same timeliness – an area which haunted them against Collingwood in round five.
Contested footy at its finest
The tackle count for this game was impressive, showing how hungry both teams were for a win. The final count was 104 apiece as both sides' aggression and commitment at the contest made for an exciting pressure game that kept fans at Windy Hill on the edge of their seats.
What they said
"It was tough. West Coast started really well, used the wind to their advantage but mostly they stepped in around the contest a lot more than we did initially." – Bombers coach Natalie Wood
"Four quarters of footy is what every team is striving for, and I reckon that's the second time we've done it this year. Funnily enough, we've won those games. If we can deliver on that in the next couple of weeks, hopefully there is another win or two up our sleeves." – Eagles coach Michael Prior
Saturday will see Essendon return to Windy Hill to face Carlton in a crucial clash between two sides chasing a finals berth. Later that evening, West Coast will face the Western Bulldogs at Mineral Resources Park in a very winnable game for the host.
ESSENDON 0.1 0.4 0.4 2.7 (19)
WEST COAST 2.1 2.1 3.4 3.5 (23)
Essendon: Toogood, Clarke
West Coast: McCarthy, Gibson, Franklin
Essendon: Prespakis, Nanscawen, Toogood, Wales
West Coast: Swanson, Roberts, Bushby, Thomas
Essendon: Cain (concussion)
West Coast: Sedunary (cork), Schilling (knee)
Crowd: 2,108 at Windy Hill