Essendon’s feeble efforts in clearance and contested-possession work when the game was up for grabs can be partly put down to the continued absence of Jake Stringer (injured) and Dylan Shiel’s suspension, although the Dogs are missing similarly important players Josh Dunkley and Aaron Naughton to injury.
Bulldogs such as Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Bailey Smith feasted on that midfield weakness, and while Essendon ruck Andrew Phillips competed evenly in the contest, he was comprehensively shown up around the ground.
The Bombers capitulated in the third term, conceding five goals and only scoring three behinds.
This wasn’t quite the 21-goal consecutive run the Bulldogs piled on against the Bombers last season when they won by 104-points, although it was a meek performance from the Bombers that will concern Essendon’s coaches and fans.
Top teams – such as the Bulldogs at stages in 2016 when they won the premiership – need to excel without their stars and Essendon fell in a heap without both Stringer and Shiel able to crash and bash in the middle.
Devon Smith’s ill-discipline didn’t help either. He bumped Jackson Macrae from behind in the third term, which resulted in a 50-metre penalty and goal to Laitham Vandermeer to put the Dogs 37 points ahead.
He gave away another free kick at a crucial time earlier in the game for a bump after a player had kicked and this was symptomatic of Essendon’s skewed focus on the night.
There is one part of the ground where the Bombers could be proud of the work during a drubbing.
Across the back line Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker, Jordan Ridley and Mason Redman kept the Bombers in the game in the first half with their smart positioning and good intercept marking.
Josh Bruce took some good grabs early for the Bulldogs, it must be said, but was wasteful in front of goal, while it took three quarters for the Dogs to take advantage of their inside 50 dominance.
In the second term the Bombers’ back line added run to their game – principally through Adam Saad – and at times he drove them forward with purpose.
Jayden Laverde was able to kick a goal in the second term on the back of that, but too much was left to too few in terms of creativity for the Bombers.
Saad battled on, trying to outrun Jason Johannisen off half-back in the third term and his ambitious dash resulted in a turnover and yet another Bulldogs inside 50.
Tim English is growing before our very eyes. Every week since the resumption of the AFL season he has added to his output.
His tap to Marcus Bontempelli at a second-term centre bounce was brilliant and around the ground he did things at his feet that looked arguably more composed and natural than they do for star Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy.
Meanwhile, the Dogs unearthed another exciting youngster, Cody Weightman, the 15th pick in the 2019 draft. His first touch was a brilliant mark and he followed that with a clever set shot for a goal in the first term. He produced another nice goal in the final quarter.
ESSENDON 3.3 4.3 4.6 7.9 (51)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.1 6.4 11.7 14.9 (93)
Essendon: Laverde 2, Hooker, Zaharakis, Snelling, Smith, McDonald-Tipungwuti
Western Bulldogs: Wallis 3, Weightman 2, Suckling 2, Lipinski, Dale, Vandermeer, Bruce, English, Richards, Johannisen
Essendon: Hurley, Ridley, Hooker, Saad, Laverde, McGrath
Western Bulldogs: English, Liberatore, Bontempelli, Macae, Suckling, Wallis, Hunter
Haussen, Stevic, Gavine, Findlay
4949 at Metricon Stadium
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.