Stand-in coach Blake Caracella hailed Essendon’s resilience after the depleted Bombers gritted out a four-point victory against a surging Adelaide to finally get their AFL season off the mark.
Essendon were without coach Ben Rutten, who was isolating as a COVID-19 close contact, while a hamstring injury sidelined Jake Stringer, amid their worst start to a campaign since 1967.
But they withstood a late Crows surge to prevail 15.13 (103) to 15.9 (99) at Marvel Stadium on Sunday and improve their season record to 1-3.
“It gives the players a lot of confidence,” Caracella said.
“We played some good teams in the first three games, top-four teams from last year.
“… Unfortunately, we lost Truck (Rutten) this week and Stringer and (James) Stewart and (Tom) Cutler and we’ve got a few other players out.
“Today a few of the players were cramping as well. We’ve had a bit of the flu go through the club as well and three or four of the players were a bit dicey on playing.
“It was a really great effort, for the boys to dig in late when it looked like it could go either way.”
Rutten, who was FaceTimed into the team huddle post-match, is set to return to Essendon on Monday.
“I was a bit excited this morning before the game, but once I got to the game it was business as usual,” Caracella said.
“I spoke to Truck maybe twice during the game and once at half-time as well. I think he was more nervous than me.”
Darcy Parish racked up 38 touches and was supported by Nic Martin, Andrew McGrath and Jye Caldwell while Peter Wright (three goals, nine marks), was influential.
On his return from a six-game ban for making a racist comment about a SANFL opposition player last year, Adelaide’s Taylor Walker was booed whenever he touched the ball, but booted four goals.
Walker also had a shot to potentially win the match from long range with just over a minute on the clock, but missed.
Adelaide star Rory Laird racked up 38 disposals, while Jordan Dawson and Josh Rachele (three goals) were influential.
Essendon were strong around the clearances but Adelaide proved dangerous on the counter.
The Bombers led by eight at half-time, when Will Snelling (calf), was substituted off for Devon Smith.
Snelling was returning from a calf injury.
In a see-sawing final term, Smith proved Essendon’s most influential, kicking one goal and setting up another.
After Walker skied his late shot, the Crows had one final surge in the dying seconds but Mason Redman intercepted to save the game.
Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks lamented poor contest work in the first half and loose ball use in the second.
“We had our chances going inside our forward half and we found a way to give them the ball back,” he said.
“We will fight, we’ll give it everything. I love that in our group, but some signs where we have to be better with the ball, we have to execute when it’s our turn.”