ESSENDON coach Ben Rutten has hit out at the tactics Fremantle used to counter star midfielder Zach Merrett during Sunday's narrow victory over the Dockers. 

Merrett received a hard tag from Dockers youngster Caleb Serong and the move paid dividends as the usually prolific midfielder was held to just 22 disposals in the Bombers’ seven-point win at Marvel Stadium.

BOMBERS v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats

But it was the close checking of Serong and his Dockers teammates that drew the ire of Rutten, with the rookie coach believing the tactics used were over the top.

"I don't think it’s a great look for our game, the off-ball stuff," Rutten said after the win.

"I think we need to let our good players play the game and compete hard when the ball is around, as it is dangerous."

08:11 Mins
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Rutten on Merrett attention: 'Not a great look'

Ben Rutten didn't hold back in his assessment of the Dockers' tagging tactics towards star midfielder Zach Merrett, labelling it 'dangerous'

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Dockers coach Justin Longmuir didn't want to get into a war of words with Rutten on the issue, but still couldn't resist a small dig at his coaching counterpart.

"I don't want to make a headline, but I think their players looked after Merrett behind the ball pretty well," Longmuir said.

The second-year coach didn't see anything untoward with the tactics the Dockers used and even commended Serong for his tagging performance.

07:34 Mins
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Highlights: Essendon v Fremantle

The Bombers and Dockers clash in round nine

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"Merrett still had a lot of the ball, but I didn’t see his usual creative ball use that he can have at his best, so I thought he (Serong) did a pretty good job," Longmuir added.

"It was tactical (to tag Merrett) as he is clearly one of the better mids in the comp. 

"He can slice teams, so we wanted to shut him out of the game."

While proud with the efforts of his players, Longmuir was bitterly disappointed his team couldn't get over the line to get the victory and stay in touch with the sides currently sitting in the top eight.

The Dockers dominated for large periods of the match and enjoyed more inside 50s than their opponents, but a failure to convert in front of goal proved costly as they slipped to a fifth loss for the season.

"I thought we were the better team for a long period of time, but when it counted - at the start and at the end - we weren’t,” Longmuir noted.

"They started at another level and they finished at another level and we couldn’t deal with that."

06:17 Mins
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Longmuir: 'We were the better team' for most the game

Justin Longmuir believes his side controlled the contest for the most part, except 'when it counted most'

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The Dockers now head home for the first time since their Derby thrashing at the hands of the Eagles earlier this month, and face an in-form Sydney side who will be high on confidence following an easy victory over Collingwood.

Longmuir is hoping to regain All-Australian defender Luke Ryan from injury for the clash against the Swans, and also indicated key backman Alex Pearce is a chance of resuming through the WAFL for Peel Thunder.

The Bombers lost Devon Smith to a hamstring issue during Sunday's clash and are bracing for the experienced midfielder to be sidelined for at least a fortnight.