Bombers’ AFL woes continue in Dogs loss

Shayne Hope |

Essendon coach Ben Rutten has been left frustrated by a 32-point defeat to the Western Bulldogs that has his side’s AFL season on the brink of collapse.

Out-of-contract star Josh Dunkley was best afield for the Bulldogs with 29 disposals and two goals in their 16.7 (103) to 10.11 (71) win on Sunday at Marvel Stadium.

Dunkley was superb in a dominant midfield, with a support cast featuring Jack Macrae and Bailey Smith, that generated a 66-39 landslide in forward-50 entries.

After being heavily criticised for their defensive work rate in recent weeks, the Bombers were sliced apart far too easily and conceded their third triple-figure score of the year.

They laid 52 tackles — an increase on their lowly season average of 41 — but it wasn’t enough as a raft of turnovers in the defensive half proved costly.

Zach Merrett (36) and Darcy Parish (32) racked up disposals and Mason Redman (29) fought well in a losing cause, while Peter Wright finished with four goals.

Axed midfielder Dylan Shiel was given a selection reprieve as the medical substitute and had 11 disposals after replacing Nic Cox (calf) at halftime.

The Bombers, who take on Hawthorn in round eight, recovered from a 2-6 start last season to play finals.

But it’s hard to see Rutten’s struggling side being able to plug their leaky defence and engineer a similar turnaround in 2022.

“There’s certainly a level of frustration,” Rutten said.

“That’s the overwhelming emotion at the moment, not only for me but the players and the group and the club more broadly.

“That’s on the back of the inconsistency of our performance at the moment.

“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.”

An emotional Mitch Wallis kicked the Bulldogs’ first two goals and gave a nod to the heavens after a traumatic period that included his mother-in-law’s shock death and the birth of his second child.

But he was substituted out of the game during the last quarter with a foot injury.

Essendon kicked the final three goals to hide some of their pain from what had blown out to a 50-point margin.

Lesser lights Lachie McNeill (three goals) and Robbie McComb (two) were among 10 goal-kickers for the Bulldogs as spearhead Aaron Naughton was held goalless for the first time this season.

“Everyone played their part at different stages and it was important that some of our lads who haven’t played a lot of footy made an impact,” Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.

“It was the spread of contribution and our backline held up extremely well, some of their overlap play was high-end.

“It’s just a shame we leaked a few (goals) late.

“That margin was looking pretty good for a little while but you can’t have it all.”