IT MIGHT not have been the emphatic Anzac Day statement Collingwood had initially been hoping for at the MCG, but it was a statement nonetheless.

Having threatened to put a genuine finals contender to the sword in the early stages of Thursday afternoon's blockbuster, the Pies were made to battle, scrap and persist.

PIES IN A THRILLER Full match coverage and stats

A dramatic four-point victory over a brave Essendon was a true test of Collingwood's resolve. And it was one Nathan Buckley's side passed in a steely, satisfying manner.

Having had a 33-point lead slashed to just three at one stage, the Pies held firm amid wave after wave of Bomber attacks in the final term to claim a 10.13 (73) to 10.9 (69) victory.

WATCH The thrilling final two minutes

As has become tradition, Scott Pendlebury was again outstanding to claim his third Anzac Medal after winning 38 classy disposals and laying six tackles in an influential display.

In doing so, Pendlebury joins James Hird as the only player to earn three Anzac Medals.

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He was well aided by Adam Treloar (38 disposals, six tackles) and Brodie Grundy (24 disposals, 39 hitouts) as Collingwood's midfield won out in an evenly matched battle.

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For Essendon, Joe Daniher lived up to his big-game billing in front of a huge crowd of 92,241 in kicking four goals from 16 disposals and eight marks.

Dylan Shiel (34 disposals, seven clearances) and Zach Merrett (30 disposals, five clearances) were also solid, though the Dons simply didn't have enough to get over the line.

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And they might have had their poor start to blame for the narrow defeat. 

Collingwood's ferocity at the contest was matched by its bold willingness to take the game on through the corridor, with Essendon struggling to find any early answers.

Only the Pies' profligacy could keep the Dons alive. Well, either their frustrating wastefulness or the remarkable natural talent of Jake Stringer.

Despite conceding nine scoring shots to one in the opening term, the Bombers found themselves only 23 points down at the first change. Then Stringer changed things.

When everything was going the Pies' way, he stood tallest. Marking, providing a contest on ground level and delivering in front of goal, he always looked a genuine threat.

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But if you thought his pair of precise finishes from the boundary lines of opposite pockets would be hard to beat for the best goals kicked on the day, you'd be sorely mistaken.

An enormous 60m Daniher bomb on the half-time siren, reducing the margin to just 15 points, had fans stunned and gave Essendon serious momentum going into the main break.

It was momentum that ebbed and flowed throughout a tense second half.

With the match still evenly poised in the dying stages of the game – and with neither side able to capitalise on any break going their way – the big players seized their moments.

Adam Treloar gets up close and personal with Mark Baguley. Picture: Scott Barbour, AFL Photos

First, it was Jordan De Goey.

Streaming to within distance of goal, but with options ahead, De Goey narrowed his focus and took it upon himself to stretch Collingwood's lead to nine points.

WATCH De Goey v Hurley: who won on the day? 

But Daniher answered.

Shrugging a tackle and pinning back the ears, Daniher floated through his fourth for the game with a fantastic snap to slash the margin back to just three.

WATCH Relive the battle between Daniher and Moore

It proved the final goal of a pulsating and thoroughly entertaining clash, with the Magpies celebrating their last-gasp win with wild and deserved celebrations at the final siren.

Essendon: Essendon was made to play much of the second half without a rotation, after forward Devon Smith again injured his knee. Smith was returning from a week on the sidelines due to the complaint.

Collingwood: Mason Cox copped a knock to his knee in the fourth quarter, but was able to play out the game after coming to the bench in some discomfort.

Collingwood heads across the road to Marvel Stadium to host Port Adelaide on Friday night, while Essendon has a 10-day break before meeting the in-form Geelong at the MCG.

ESSENDON                  1.0   5.3    8.6   10.9 (69)                
COLLINGWOOD          4.5   7.6    9.9   10.13 (73)          

Essendon: Daniher 4, Baguley 3, Stringer 2, Guelfi
Collingwood: Cox 2, De Goey 2, Mihocek, Thomas, Stephenson, Hoskin-Elliott, Adams, Sidebottom

Essendon: Shiel, Merrett, Hurley, Saad, Stringer, Daniher
Collingwood: Pendlebury, Grundy, Crisp, Howe, De Goey, Beams

Essendon: Smith (knee)
Collingwood: Cox (knee)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Stephens, Hosking, Ryan

Official crowd: 92,241 at the MCG

Anzac Medal voting

9 – Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood) 3, 3, 3
4 – Brodie Grundy (Collingwood) 2, 2
3 – Joe Daniher (Essendon) 2, 1
1 – Dylan Shiel (Essendon) 1
1 – Adam Saad (Essendon) 1

Jake Niall (The Age, chair) - Scott Pendlebury, Joe Daniher, Dylan Shiel
Mark Robinson (Herald Sun) - Scott Pendlebury, Brodie Grundy, Adam Saad
Kelli Underwood (ABC) - Scott Pendlebury, Brodie Grundy, Joe Daniher