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Match Report: Lions stun Bombers with thrilling comeback

Ben Guthrie, AFL.com.au  July 2, 2017 4:50 PM

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Essendon has suffered its second-straight loss in demoralising circumstances, astonishingly blowing another game that appeared to be in its keeping as it went down by eight points to a resilient Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Bombers led at every change but remarkably allowed the Lions to boot six of the last seven goals of the game, as unlikely hero Ryan Lester took a huge pack mark and booted the go-ahead goal with just under two minutes remaining.

Essendon's final-quarter capitulation comes on the back of a heart-breaking loss to Sydney last week, underlined by Gary Rohan's winner after the siren, where it coughed up another late lead.

With eight players with fewer than 50 games of experience, the young Lions showed plenty of heart to notch their third win of the season, triumphing 13.12 (90) to 11.16 (82) after trailing by 27 points early in the final term. 

In just his second AFL game, Alex Witherden – pick No.23 in last year's NAB AFL Draft – epitomised the Lions' pluck as he racked up 29 disposals in a polished display.

Based on his efforts against the Bombers, Witherden could join Hugh McCluggage and Eric Hipwood as a NAB AFL Rising Star nominee.

Talented forward Hipwood stepped up when his side needed him to, booting a game-high four goals, while Rohan Bewick added three.

In a game riddled with turnovers, Lewis Taylor was as sure-handed and sure-footed as any player on the ground, and was influential with 24 disposals at 91.7 per cent efficiency to go with three goal assists, while Dayne Zorko bounced back from a shocker against Greater Western Sydney last week to finish with 30 disposals, eight tackles and two goals.

Lions coach Chris Fagan said his side showed tremendous character to come back from a sizeable deficit, particularly with captain Dayne Beams sidelined by injury.

"I've always believed in footy that wins on the road, particularly against the odds a little bit like they were today, build great character and great belief," Fagan said.

"We'll probably milk it for all it's worth this week. But then we get on to the fact we face Geelong on Saturday night. The game sobers you up pretty quickly. We'll enjoy the win briefly." 

Essendon dominated the inside 50 count (61 to 43) but its inaccuracy in front of goal – it booted 11.16 – and inefficiency in attack kept the Lions in the contest.

After being widely criticised for a monumental error from a kick-in late in Essendon's loss to the Swans, Brendon Goddard was the Bombers' best with 31 disposals.

Michael Hurley again stood up in defence and racked up 31 touches, while Dyson Heppell (24 touches and nine clearances) raised his game to another level with Zach Merrett's influence quelled.

Recently re-signed forward Joe Daniher kicked three first-half goals and fought an intriguing battle with emerging defender Harris Andrews.

The Bombers took a game-high 27-point lead at the four-minute mark of the final term, but back-to-back posters from Daniher and David Zaharakis proved costly in the final result.

Bombers coach John Worsfold said the loss left him "banging his head against the wall".

"It was a disappointing day," Worsfold said.

"For parts of it the numbers looked all right, but we just didn't play our footy even from the start of the game.

"We didn't look like we were playing the brand of footy that we're aiming to play."

MEDICAL ROOM

Essendon: The Bombers received the all clear on the injury front.

Brisbane Lions: Lions defender Darcy Gardiner was sent to hospital after suffering a dislocated elbow in the first quarter. Gardiner attempted to block Bomber Orazio Fantasia from running on to receive the football in the middle of the ground, but got his left arm caught up. Lions coach Chris Fagan said after the match that the injury could spell the end of the defender's season. Rohan Bewick hobbled from the field late in the fourth quarter when he jarred his knee, but returned to the field of play.

NEXT UP

The Bombers face a season-defining clash against Collingwood next Saturday. Buoyed with confidence, the Lions are back on their home turf at the Gabba, off a six-day break, against Geelong on Saturday night.

ESSENDON                 3.5       4.10     9.13     11.16 (82)
BRISBANE LIONS        1.3       4.5       7.6       13.12 (90)

GOALS
Essendon: Daniher 3, Hooker 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Fantasia, Green, Stewart, Parish
Brisbane Lions: Hipwood 4, Bewick 3, Zorko 2, Cutler, Walker, Bastinac, Lester