Fremantle’s finals credentials are in tatters after a brilliant slice of Ham saw the Dockers slump to their fourth loss on the road this season.
With just over five minutes to play and the game on the line, Bomber Brayden Ham landed the killer blow to secure Essendon a seven-point win.
Fremantle spearhead Rory Lobb was controversially denied a juggling mark attempt late which would have given the Dockers the chance to potentially steal a win.
But in reality, the Dockers have only themselves to blame after fighting back from an early 19-point deficit only to lose yet another game away from Optus Stadium this season.
Inaccuracy cost Justin Longmuir’s side again, with the 10.8 (68) to 8.13 (61) final score a disappointing but fair reflection of the Marvel Stadium arm-wrestle.
Both sides had their opportunities to pull away in the third quarter.
But like tired boxers leaning against the rope, both teams tried but failed to land lethal blows.
Returning for his first game since a minor ankle syndesmosis injury, Adam Cerra (28 touches, four clearances, five inside 50s) and his pinpoint ball use set up two early goals courtesy of Michael Walters and Matt Taberner.
But their game-high lead was quickly erased when Fremantle allowed Mason Redman to cruise unchecked through their defensive zone and bomb one home from outside 50.
The pressure quickly hit lifted and seemingly so did the difficulty of usually routine set shots.
Lachie Schultz didn’t make the distance, Fyfe offended yet again and the signs were grim when both David Mundy and Walters fumbled the ball in quick succession.
Zach Merrett, Cale Hooker and Matt Guelfi were guilty of questionable accuracy for Essendon before Taberner benefited from an off the ball hit on Nathan Wilson to break the deadlock and kick his fourth.
Darcy Parish ensured his 29th disposal for the day was his most important, converting a holding free kick to set up a three-point margin and grandstand finish.
But when ruckman Andrew Phillips gave Essendon the lead back shortly into the final stanza, Fremantle’s game flow and structure suffered a fatal collapse.
The Bombers suffocated the visitors at every interval and denied Fremantle the space and opportunity to switch the ball they had been afforded earlier in the match.
Mundy breathed life into the Dockers once more when he strode into goal and converted late.
But misses to James Aish and Walters summed up a wasteful day, compounded by Ham’s sealing shot up the other end.
Parish (39 disposals, 10 clearances, eight inside 50s) was the difference through the midfield while reborn defender Nick Hind (31 touches, four rebound 50s), helped blanket Fremantle’s small forward brigade.
For the Dockers, Taberner (four goals) threatened but cost himself a bigger bag with a further thee behinds.
Reece Conca was a baffling omission from Fremantle’s starting 22 this week.
Mid-week the lockdown defender declared he wanted the job on Essendon livewire Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
But instead, Conca was named as Fremantle’s medical sub and could only watch as McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked Essendon’s first goal of the day and extended the Bombers lead in the last, also setting up a crucial point late which made it a two-kick game.
Was Conca still feeling the ill effects of hamstring twang in the first quarter against Brisbane?
The sub vest definitely suggested otherwise as James Aish was forced to push back and try and stem the damage.
Nat Fyfe’s goal kicking has been one issue.
But his well-documented inaccuracy crept into his field kicking with Fyfe failing to have his usual impact despite notching 28 touches.
At one stage in the third quarter, Fyfe was going at 22 per cent efficiency with his disposals before rewiring his radar to improve to 46 per cent by the end of the game.
Cerra, on the other hand, went at 79 per cent with his 28 touches.
Master v apprentice
One of the more enthralling subplots of the game was the battle between Zach Merrett and Caleb Serong.
Serong, the reigning AFL Rising Star, has been denied extensive game time this season but was given a new responsibility of tagging one of the game’s in-form midfielders.
The Docker’s mission was successful, holding Merrett to 22 touches but limiting the impact of each possession.
After a quiet first quarter, recording only three touches, Serong also managed to find his feet in his new role and finished the game with 19 touches himself.