Essendon is not the best team in the AFL, and it is not the worst. But it might just be the most unaccountable. Last season, the Bombers attracted praise from all quarters for their attractive run-and-gun style, which left plenty of opponents one-step behind. In the end, Essendon exceeded expectations and made the top-eight. But it is unlikely to repeat that this season, unless it addresses its defensive processes.
This year, it seems, the Bombers have been found out – and they are leaking goals like no other team.
Teams that go one-way, and one-way only, are unlikely to trouble the elite sides. The NAB Cup may be an insignificant competition to some, but it set the trend for Essendon’s season.
Against West Coast, in the opening-round of the pre-season competition, the Bombers conceded 13 consecutive goals.
Against Geelong, in Round 1 of the home-and-away season, Essendon played some superb football before it let the Cats kick nine goals in a row. Game over.
In Round 2, the much-improved Fremantle booted six in a row to finish all over the Bombers.
And last week, the Eagles, again, gorged on Essendon’s loose defence and kicked nine majors in succession to end the Bombers’ hopes.
That, surely, provides enough data to warrant a serious review.
There is no doubt coach Matthew Knights will be analysing how he can buck the trend. He needs to find a solution soon, though, or Essendon’s season will be over before he makes his next move on the magnetic board.
Knights’ game-plan, which devotes plenty of attention towards attack, and little to defence, has come under scrutiny from two of the club’s former greats.
Significantly, both of them retired last season – Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas.
Knights is adamant his style can lift the Bombers to a premiership, but both Lloyd and Lucas disagree.
Lloyd, speaking on Channel Ten recently, said: “They won’t win a premiership playing the style of football they have. He will have to change his game style.”
Lucas, speaking on Melbourne’s SEN radio last Sunday, said Essendon’s players are using the attacking game-plan as a “get-out” clause when they make a mistake or a lazy in chasing an opponent or manning-up.
Knights may disagree with them, but the comments have credence attached to them, given they were made by two highly respected former players who retired just last season.
Knights is secured until the end of the 2012 season. Did the board jump the gun?
Yes, Essendon did finish eighth last season. But it won just 10 games, which is unlikely to qualify a team in most seasons.
Did Bomber fans get too excited about their team’s list, too early? Time will tell. A win against Collingwood on Anzac Day will silence the doubters, but the long-term issues could remain.