FRUSTRATED Essendon coach Ben Rutten says an increasingly unlikely finals is the furthest thing from his mind after his side's 32-point loss to the Western Bulldogs.
The defeat leaves the 1-6 Bombers' hopes of September action hanging by a thread after their third loss in a row, languishing in 16th on the ladder.
Essendon was 2-6 after eight rounds in 2021, before winning nine of their next 14 games, which was good enough to see them finish eighth and play finals.
BULLDOGS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Rutten, though, insists he's not thinking about that this year.
"It's a long way away," he said post-game.
"At the moment, there's a level of frustration with the playing group, the coaches, I'm sure more broadly, us as a club.
"We're working really hard.
"Clearly, we're not where we want to be and where we need to be at the moment. That's our biggest priority, is getting back to playing a more consistent brand of footy. We want to create a more consistent, dependable brand and style of footy, week in, week out, regardless of opposition, regardless of result, we want to make sure that we are playing a more consistent brand of footy."
Asked how can the Bombers turn it around, Rutten said there was no quick fix.
"I think we've just got to keep going to work," he said.
"Our time on the track is really important… continuing to build the belief and showing evidence of us doing it at the level, creating enough opportunities for our players to train it and keep fronting up.
"It's a tough game, it's a tough game and today the Bulldogs made us pay."
Rutten said the Bombers' biggest weakness was their consistency. They have played in patches this season, but struggle to put a four-quarter performance together.
"There's been stages throughout this year where we've shown a more consistent level, but we're just struggling at the moment to be able to find that consistency," Rutten said.
"So, yeah, frustration is probably the overwhelming kind of feeling at the moment.
"There's probably lots of stages throughout our game where there's some fundamental errors. None of our boys are trying to make mistakes and the game is littered with mistakes, but it feels like at the moment there's some more basic fundamental errors that we're making that are really damaging and costly."
The Dons next face the Hawks at the MCG on Saturday night.
Rutten was hopeful Nik Cox (ankle) would be available to face the Hawks after he was subbed out of the game.
The Dogs, meanwhile, jump into 10th on the ladder.
They won on Sunday without focal point Aaron Naughton kicking a goal, the first time he has failed to do so since round 16 last year.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was pleased that others stepped up in his absence.
"We had 10 (goalkickers) in the end… it's important every week. Going into the game you would think Naughton would get at least a couple… the ball hit his hands in that third quarter a few times…. he'd normally hang onto those," he said.
Lachie McNeil bobbed up with three goals, while Robbie McComb booted two.
"We said before the game amongst our ranks that both teams would have really important role players… some uncertainty with what they've been doing, some uncertainty at times with what we've been doing as far as getting the end result," Beveridge said.
"I just felt that everyone played their part at different stages. It was important that some of our lads that haven't played a lot of footy made an impact. It was good to see Robbie McComb be involved in the game. Obviously, Lachie McNeil kicked three goals.
"The spread of contribution… and I just felt our backline held up extremely really well and some of their overlap play was high-end.
"It's just a shame we leaked a few late; that margin was looking pretty good for a while. Anyway, you can't have it all."
Beveridge said Naughton "should be OK" to face Port Adelaide on Friday night.
"He was a little bit sore throughout the course of the game… we sat him down for the last seven or eight minutes. He should be okay, but he just fell a bit awkwardly up that far end (of the ground) late in the third quarter," said Beveridge.
"It's a five-day break, though, for us, going into Port Adelaide, so it's really critical that we recover well and make the most of it, freshen up."
The Dogs will also be sweating on the fitness of Mitch Wallis, who was subbed out after hurting a foot.
"We're hoping it's a joint thing, rather than a bone thing. He's sore," Beveridge said.