ESSENDON coach John Worsfold says the Bombers will be "rewarded" long-term for continuing to develop their game plan during an injury crisis.
The Bombers were without nearly half of their best line-up in their 35-point loss to St Kilda on Sunday, stretching Essendon's games without a win to four straight matches.
SAINTS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Worsfold has been dealt one of the longest injury lists in the competition, with Essendon missing Joe Daniher (groin), Orazio Fantasia (calf), Dyson Heppell (ankle), Cale Hooker (calf), Jake Stringer (ankle), Patrick Ambrose (foot), David Zaharakis (quad) and Jayden Laverde (ankle) against the Saints, while Devon Smith, Tom Bellchambers, Aaron Francis and Mason Redman were managed for the clash.
The defeat leaves the Bombers clinging to their finals hopes with a tough run of opponents to come, including Richmond, West Coast, Geelong and Port Adelaide.
But Worsfold said strides were still being made as the Bombers press ahead with their reworked game plan under senior coach-in-waiting Ben Rutten and respected assistant Blake Caracella.
"Everyone has to understand that we're working really on understanding the game style that we want to become great at. And to become great at whatever game style it is, you need your best players out on the field. That's when you're going to become a great team," Worsfold said after the defeat.
"We all know that the best teams have most of their best players available at any given time. The hard work the boys have been doing is going to get rewarded as we get availability of players, so stick at it.
"Everyone has to understand that's the way it's been for us. It's been tough, but we're not backing away from the hard work we want to do to get better at the way we want to play, so when we add some of those names in there they don't come in and have to start from scratch."
The Bombers coach put it on his side to start games better after they managed only two first-half goals against the Saints. They have been outscored 14 goals to five in their past two combined first halves.
"There was some stuff out there that we liked the look of and worked well, we need to see more of that," he said.
"And also be aware of our slow starts in the last couple of weeks, which have made it very tough for us to get into anywhere near a winning position.”
As Essendon's finals hopes took a hit, St Kilda's received a boost as the Saints went another step closer to securing a top-eight berth for the first time since 2011.
Coach Brett Ratten said the club's eighth win meant more was still needed before they could lock in a finals spot.
"We've just got to keep building. What is the magic number to make finals? We're not sure. Is it nine or 10 [wins]? The draws are going to play a big part in it and percentage is going to be like a win if you have a decent enough percentage. It's going to get very tight," he said.
"For us though, we want to try and put ourselves in a position to make finals. We haven't done it for eight years, so with each win we're getting closer and with each win you get a bit of self-belief as well. We'll just keep pushing on. "
Jake Carlisle and Dean Kent were managed for the clash but are expected to be available against Brisbane in a crunch clash when the Saints return to the Gabba next Sunday.