Kyle Langford and Zach Merrett celebrate a goal during Essendon's clash against North Melbourne in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON has denied North Melbourne great Ben Cunnington a fairytale farewell, with the Bombers surviving another major scare to hang on by nine points.

For the second Saturday in a row at Marvel Stadium, Essendon was made to work hard against a bottom-two side following last week's one-point escape over West Coast.

KANGAROOS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

In a tight and tense game where neither team led by more than 15 points, the Bombers prevailed 13.8 (86) to 12.5 (77) to keep their finals hopes alive ahead of the last two rounds of the home and away season.

North cut the lead to three points with three minutes remaining but Archie Perkins calmly slotted the matchwinner from 25 metres out for Essendon with 50 seconds to go.


The Bombers (11-10) will need to defeat Greater Western Sydney (away) and Collingwood (MCG) in the next fortnight to book a top-eight place.

Cunnington, a cancer survivor, was on limited game time but provided an unforgettable moment for long-suffering North supporters when he booted the second goal of his 238th and final AFL match.

The 32-year-old was mobbed by every single one of his Kangaroos teammates after slotting the 97th goal of his career when he gathered and kicked truly from 40m out in the first quarter.


Cunnington (24 disposals, 10 clearances) stepped up again in the final quarter, snapping his second goal to reduce Essendon's lead to nine points.

Nick Larkey (five goals), Harry Sheezel (32 disposals) and Luke Davies-Uniacke (28 and a goal) tried to will North over the line for Cunnington, but Essendon had too much class with its season at stake.

Hard-running Bomber Nic Martin (three goals, 32 disposals) was clearly best on ground, while Kyle Langford continued his career-best season with an important three-goal performance.


The result extends North's losing streak to 19 – its worst run since 1932 when it failed to win for 33 straight games.

Cunnington delivers special moment
Playing his final AFL game after announcing his retirement earlier this week, Ben Cunnington needed just minutes to deliver for North fans. The midfielder kicked a wonderful farewell goal, before the Roos supporters also gave him an ovation at the 10-minute mark of the first quarter. Cunnington, who finished with 24 disposals, 10 clearances and two goals, also snapped a late major to give the Roos hope.


Taylor gets big job
Zach Merrett has dominated the Kangaroos in recent seasons and North gave Curtis Taylor the job of tagging the Bombers captain on Saturday. Taylor started at half-forward before getting to Merrett and he did a fine job, holding the Don to 21 disposals. Merrett had five clearances and also laid nine tackles.

Bombers' No.5 shows what he can do
Playing his second AFL game, Elijah Tsatas showed Essendon fans what they have to look forward to for years to come. The midfielder had 23 disposals, four clearances, three tackles and kicked his first AFL goal. Tsatas also had seven score involvements. And, it all came in just 60 per cent game time.


NORTH MELBOURNE          3.0     6.1       9.3      12.5 (77)
ESSENDON                          2.1     5.2     10.4     13.8 (86)

North Melbourne: Larkey 5, Stephenson 2, Cunnington 2, Simpkin, Ford, Davies-Uniacke
Martin 3, Langford 3, Wright 2, Menzie 2, Tsatas, Perkins, Guelfi

North Melbourne: Davies-Uniacke, Larkey, Cunnington, Thomas, Sheezel
Martin, Parish, Langford, Tsatas, Redman, Hobbs

North Melbourne: Simpkin (arm)

North Melbourne: Nil
Will Snelling replaced in selected side by Kaine Baldwin

North Melbourne: Charlie Lazzaro (replaced Jackson Archer at three-quarter time)
Will Snelling (replaced Nick Bryan in fourth quarter)

Crowd: 37,231 at Marvel Stadium