AS ST KILDA crashed backed to Earth, Essendon delivered a thrilling reminder of its finals credentials with a dominant 61-point win at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
Just six days after the Saints wiped the floor with Richmond they were given a taste of their own medicine, with the Bombers cashing in on a hot night to win 17.16 (118) to 7.15 (57).
They set up the win with a withering seven-goal third term but were the better team from start to finish, with early inaccuracy and a late salvage mission from St Kilda the only things preventing a bigger blowout.
Full match coverage and stats
The result squares Essendon's season at 8-8 and keeps it in the finals mix, with back-to-back wins suggesting John Worsfold's team is building at the right time of the year.
It was a miserable night for the 9-7 Saints, meanwhile, with the gains of last week all but undone in a loss that draws them back to the pack with six rounds remaining.
The Bombers had winners all over the ground, but electrifying tall forward Joe Daniher was the star with four goals and two thrilling marks on top of opponent Jake Carlisle's shoulders.
While teammates faltered in front of goal, Daniher was a sharpshooter, with the dynamic forward moving to the top of the Coleman Medal leaderboard with a career-best 45 goals for the season.
David Zaharakis (32 possessions and two goals) and Zach Merrett (37 and 10 tackles) controlled the midfield, while ruckman Tom Bellchambers (26 hit-outs and two goals) dominated opponent Tom Hickey.
Defender Michael Hurley was dominant in defence with 27 possessions, nine marks and six rebound 50s, continuing a superb season.
"I've seen this group improving across the year," Worsfold said after the match.
"There's no doubt our footy over the last three or four weeks has been better than what it was in the first four weeks of the year … so we have improved throughout the year.
"The aim is to maintain some improvement and not just sit back and say 'this is where we're at'. Consistency of effort and performance will tell us how good we are."
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By the final siren the Bombers had won 66 more possessions and laid 16 more tackles, underlining not only their ability to retain possession, but defensive mindset when they didn't have it.
The tackle figure was damning for the Saints, who have averaged an AFL-high eight more tackles than their opponents this season.
Asked whether Friday night's loss was to do with attitude, Richardson said: "It's either wouldn't or couldn't".
"If you don't turn up with enormous energy and a willingness to defend, a willingness to work, then you're going to get embarrassed. That's what happened," the coach said.
"They (Essendon) were outstanding. We couldn't stop them. They just worked through us way too easily, so credit to them, we were a fair way off it."
Carlisle was one of the Saints' better performers in his first game against his former club with 19 possessions and 11 marks, while defenders Shane Savage (31 and eight marks) and Dylan Roberton (26 and 11 rebound 50s) toiled hard.
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The Saints also blooded high school debutant Josh Battle, who converted a long-range set shot to kick the first goal of his career in a rare highlight for the club.
Carlisle's night started with a handshake and a hug from Daniher but boos from the fans that cheered him for 85 games.
The boos subsided but Daniher turned nasty, sitting on the key defender's shoulders in the early minutes as he flew for a spectacular mark, then playing on to snap the opening goal of the game.
Making a good start would have been a focus for the Saints against an Essendon team that had won 12 of its 15 first quarters this season, but they couldn't get any rhythm to their game.
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The Bombers controlled general play and cruised to a 28-point lead at half-time, with inaccuracy from forwards James Stewart and Orazio Fantasia, who combined for 0.7, the only glitch.
Weight of numbers in the second half ensured that would not matter, however, as the Bombers kicked away for a win that could prove significant to the finals make-up.
St Kilda: Sam Gilbert will need to have a finger injury assessed after appearing to have his right hand stomped on in the final term. The hand was heavily bandaged late in the game, but the Saints were unable to confirm the extent of the damage post-match.
Essendon: The Bombers appeared to get through unscathed.
Essendon hosts 17th-placed North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium next Saturday in a golden opportunity to notch a third straight win and build momentum. The Saints will look to rebound against Sydney at the SCG, having lost their past seven clashes against the Swans.
ST KILDA 0.2 2.6 4.11 7.15 (57)
ESSENDON 2.5 6.10 13.12 17.16 (118)
St Kilda: Gresham, Carlisle, Bruce, Riewoldt, Battle, Sinclair, Lonie
Essendon: Daniher 4, Green 2, Bellchambers 2, Zaharakis 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, McKenna, Hurley, Hooker, Colyer, Myers
St Kilda: Savage, Roberton, Carlisle, Steven, Newnes
Essendon: Zaharakis, Daniher, Merrett, Hurley, McGrath, Bellchambers
St Kilda: Gilbert (finger)
Umpires: Margetts, O'Gorman, Nicholls
Official crowd: 47,156 at Etihad Stadium