Essendon players celebrate a goal during the R8 match against West Coast at Optus Stadium on May 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON held on late against West Coast in a Saturday night thriller and is knocking on the door of the top four after a dramatic six-point win at Optus Stadium. 

The Bombers stood up at crucial moments in the fourth quarter to seal the 11.11 (77) to 11.5 (71) win, but they also benefited from a horror lapse in judgement late from premiership Eagle Jamie Cripps when the game was on the line. 

EAGLES v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

With star forward Jake Waterman lining up for a set shot that would have reduced the gap to four points, Cripps shoved opponent Nic Martin to ground, giving away a free kick at a time when his team had momentum.

While the Eagles rallied again and cut the margin to six points in the final two minutes, they were unable to get the final goal they needed as the Bombers moved to 5-2-1 and just half a game adrift of fourth-placed Melbourne.

Further souring the defeat for the home team, star midfielder Elliot Yeo looked to suffer a groin injury late in the third quarter and was substituted out of his 200th match in a concerning sign given his history of groin issues. 


Young star Harley Reid sent a scare through the camp when he pulled up and grabbed at his right hamstring, coming from the ground, but he was able to return to the field late as the Eagles surged forward.  

The Bombers, who will rue undisciplined moments themselves throughout the game, can thank the cool head of their brilliant captain Zach Merrett and a clutch 50m goal on the boundary from Kyle Langford for sealing the important win. 


Merrett was outstanding with 29 disposals and three goals, leading a deep midfield that was also well served by Darcy Parish (36 and six clearances) and Sam Durham (25 and seven clearances). 

Martin was a thorn in the Eagles' side at half-back with 32 disposals, eight marks and six rebound 50s, lifting as he often does against the team he trialled with during the 2021 pre-season. 

The pattern for Essendon's midfield ascendency was set early as it controlled clearances 13-5 in the first quarter and kicked its two goals from the source, building a 10-point lead at the first break. 

A big contested mark and set shot goal from Waterman had been the Eagles' only early highlight, and they turned again to their in-form forward, who flushed a brilliant set shot from outside 50m to start the second term. When Yeo matched that effort minutes later, West Coast had an unlikely lead. 


The Bombers responded with their best 10-minute period for the half, however, kicking four unanswered goals as their midfielders did as they liked again and their opponents turned the ball over far too frequently. 

When Durham shook Reid at a forward 50 stoppage to snap a neat goal, Essendon was 21 points clear and looked comfortably the better side going into the second half. 


West Coast's best period of the game was still to come, however, and it found another gear through the third quarter to keep the contest alive, with Campbell Chesser seizing on Jake Kelly's error to convert on the goalline. 

Quiet through the first half, Reid electrified the home crowd with a pair of fend-offs in the middle of the ground, shrugging off Merrett and Ben Hobbs to create a goal for Jack Darling and cut the margin to just four points. 

A pair of late goals to Essendon, including a brilliant dribble from the pocket from Merrett for his third, restored a 15-point margin at the last break.


West Coast had ample opportunities in the final quarter to peg that back, but a stunning 50m goal on the boundary from Langford against the run of play gave the Bombers enough breathing room late. 

Harley has his moment, but Merrett responds
In his return from being managed for one match, Harley Reid took time to get into the game and entered the main break with six disposals. The young star delivered an electrifying 'double fend-off' in the third quarter, however, shoving off tackling attempts from Merrett and then Ben Hobbs in the middle of the ground. Unfortunately for Reid, Merrett had his moment minutes later when he pushed forward and dribbled a brilliant goal from the pocket to break a run of momentum for the Eagles.  


Martin does it again 
The Eagles are growing used to Nic Martin reminding them of what they could have had after the star Bomber trained with them during the 2021 pre-season but was not offered a list spot. Martin was a different player then as a medium forward in the WAFL, but his transformation at the Bombers into a star wingman and now All-Australian calibre half-back has included big games in Perth along the way against the Eagles each year. Last year, the 23-year-old racked up 31 disposals and six inside 50s to earn two Brownlow Medal votes in round 11. He could be similarly rewarded by the umpires for Saturday night's effort.   

Nic Martin handballs during the R8 match between Essendon and West Coast at Optus Stadium on May 4, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Young Eagle faces nervous wait 
Noah Long will undergo scans in the coming days after his legs were caught awkwardly under a tackle in the third quarter, with the Eagles forward limping from the ground with trainers before being substituted at three-quarter time. The knee injury was confirmed post-match, but the extent is not yet known as the Eagles hope for the best. With Yeo also spending an extended period on the bench to end the third quarter with a groin issue and not returning, it was a bad night on the injury front for the Eagles, who have benefited from better availability so far in 2024.  


WEST COAST           1.1   4.2   8.5   11.5 (71)
ESSENDON              2.5   7.6   10.8   11.11 (77) 

West Coast: Waterman 3, J Williams 3, Darling 2, Chesser, B Williams, Yeo  
Essendon: Merrett 3, Langford 3, Wright 2, Durham, Duursma, Stringer

West Coast: Waterman, Kelly, Duggan, McGovern, J Williams  
Essendon: Merrett, Parish, Durham, Martin, Langford, Perkins

West Coast: Long (knee), Yeo (groin) 
Essendon: Caldwell (calf tightness)

West Coast: Ryan Maric (illness) replaced in selected side by Dom Sheed 
Essendon: Nil 

West Coast: Harvey Johnston (replaced Noah Long at three-quarter time) 
Essendon: Ben Hobbs (replaced Jye Caldwell in the third quarter)

Crowd: 51,751 at Optus Stadium