When 15th plays 9th you know it is going to be a long road. Essendon have struggled to find wins this year, having only 5. They have also lost their last 4 while Adelaide have found that while their form fluctuated, they still won 10 games and last week comfortable knocked off a high flying Richmond. In contrast, Essendon played well against the GWS Giants – for one half at least. The second half was quite ordinary.
Coming into the next big challenge, Essendon have made 3 changes to the side. Nick O'Brien has been omitted, Coach James Hird citing that he is chasing a bit more experience in the hard ball work areas while James Gwilt is out with an injured groin - forcing him to be subbed off last week. The final out is Adam Cooney who had a game to forget, capped off by a report in the dying minutes that landed him a 1 week suspension for his hit on Stephen Coniglio. Adelaide has made no changes at all going into this game. Here is how they line up:
Essendon have brought in David Myers after his shoulder reconstruction, Jake Melksham after a rest and Tayte Pears comes in for his first game since 2013 after a string of injuries cruelled what could have been a brilliant career. He would be looking to impose himself onto the contest to retain his spot in the side and keep the glimmer of hope that he resurrect his career alive.
While Adelaide may not be in the 8, these teams can be considered polar opposites. Adelaide is ranked number 1 in the competition for clearances while Essendon is 18th. Adelaide is also 7th for goals kicked while Essendon languish at 16th. Essendon also has the lowest goal kicking accuracy in the competition.
That said, it isn't all bad news for Essendon. They rank 8th in the competition for tackles while Adelaide are 16th, 4th for contested marks while Adelaide are 8th.
To fix up their clearance woes, over the last three weeks Essendon have brought in ruck-man in wait Jonathan Giles, stopper and hard ball magnet Heath Hocking and the booming left leg of David Myers. This is Myers first game back since his shoulder surgery to repair damage occurring in the opening minutes of Round 1’s season opener against Sydney.
Giles had a slow start against the Bulldogs 2 weeks ago but repaid the Coaches faith last week with some outstanding follow up and contested ball work. He is up against Sam Jacobs who last week took Ivan Maric to the sword and made it look easy. Hocking had missed pre-season and the entire season until last week but his impact was surely felt. Adding Myers to the mix has the potential to restore some of the midfield ascendency Essendon used to enjoy - and help stand in skipper Dyson Heppell break his tag.
Expect Hocking to try and wear Dangerfield like a glove (always a big ask!) because the middle is where it must be won. Essendon’s defence is a skeleton of what it once was while they wait for players like Fletcher, Gwilt and Hurley to recover from their injuries. Tayte Pears has been solid in the VFL but this is his first AFL game in a long time. Baguley will have his hands full trying to stop the lively and wily Eddie Betts.
Then there is the Adelaide skipper, Taylor “Tex” Walker. Tex is one of the premier forwards for a very good reason. Sure hands, great kicking, strong athleticism and a strong body. His perfect match up would have been Michael Hurley, however Hurley is still fighting a knee complaint and unable to play this week.
Given Tex’s speed and strength you would likely see a tag team effort between Cale Hooker and Jake Carlisle. Either way, expect the Crows to be looking for Tex every time they go into the forward 50. Essendon’s forward 50 remains as it always is; inexperienced but full of potential. Joe Daniher is still having the best season of his career but as Essendon’s leading forward, he has copped the heavy tags. Hooker and Carlisle have been there to lend him a helping hand but with Adelaide’s formidable forward line, sending either of the pair forwards could cost Essendon on the other side of the ground.
The sheer strength of Adelaides forward line is the reason why Essendon must do or die in the middle of the ground. If Adelaide is able to get some quick ball movement, it may just start raining goals against Essendon.
Whichever way you look at it, this is not going to be an easy game for the out of form Essendon outfit that need to find a way to win to take some confidence and belief. Without this, they may even struggle against the Gold Coast Suns who have injury issues of their own.