ESSENDON coach Ben Rutten said maintaining the Bombers' scoring opportunities out of the midfield was the main factor in deciding against attempting to lock down red-hot Brisbane star Lachie Neale in Saturday's loss to the Lions.
Neale continued to torment the Bombers, racking up 41 disposals and kicking two goals in a best-afield display. It continues a rich run of form against the club, having now averaged 38 disposals and booted six goals in his past four games against them.
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The 2020 Brownlow Medallist took the game apart in the second half as Brisbane scooted to a 22-point win at Marvel Stadium and Rutten said that the Bombers had weighed up sending a stopper to contain Neale but opted not to change their midfield structure.
"We had a decision with what we wanted to do with Neale in that second half. Did we want to try and lock him down a little bit and put a player on him a little bit more at stoppage?" he said post-game.
"But in the end we decided not to because we wanted to still keep a bit of flow and attack in our game. We needed to get the ascendancy back at clearance to then be able to impact and get some more productivity on the scoreboard."
Rutten said the Bombers were creating their own scoring opportunities from their midfield group, headed by Darcy Parish (35 disposals, six clearances) and Zach Merrett (31 disposals, one goal) and that they would continue to back their own.
"I think we've got some pretty productive midfielders in there as well. We want to make sure that our guys are continuing to improve their game and giving the opposition something to deal with as well. I thought Darcy, Zach and [Jake] Stringer and Jye [Caldwell] around centre bounce was pretty productive as well," he said. "We don't want to lose that flair out of their game."
Merrett had 20 disposals in the first half but garnered more attention from Brisbane midfielder Jarrod Berry, who was sent to the three-time best and fairest winner in the second term.
Lions coach Chris Fagan, who was pleased with his side's ability to turn around a sluggish start to win comfortably away from home, praised the effort of Berry, who managed to slow Merrett's impact and helped "change the tide of the game".
"It would be fair to say he did a terrific job. Zach Merrett still got a bit of the ball, but he wasn't slicing us like he was in the first quarter," Fagan said.
Fagan said Neale was already seeing the benefits of a strong pre-season after his injury interruptions in 2021.
"It was an astonishing performance and he just lifted and drove us across the line. It's a pity that goal was touched (which was overturned by the goal review) in the last quarter because that would have put the icing on his game to have the third goal. It was a special game by him. He's had a very, very good pre-season and he's very determined this year," Fagan said.
Merrett finished the game on crutches after suffering an ankle injury late in the match, as was teammate Nik Cox, who needed to be helped from the field after a rolled ankle. Rutten said the Bombers were hoping Merrett didn't miss any games, but it was too early to tell.
"Coxy's had a reasonably solid rolled ankle. It's just a standard rolled ankle at this stage. And Zach's an ankle as well but more on the minor end of it at this stage," he said.