Hird: ‘Dons must improve in AFL

Essendon have six days to do something about their poor contested work before Fremantle ruthlessly expose the weakness.

They lost contested possessions again in Sunday’s two-point AFL win over St Kilda.

The Bombers will go to Perth next Saturday night to play the Dockers, who under coach Ross Lyon have become masters of contested football.

“If we don’t work out the contest part of our game, then we’ll struggle against the best teams,” said coach James Hird.

“If we’re not top form in that area, it’s too hard to kick goals.”

Hird also noted that the Bombers had lost narrowly to grand finalists Sydney and scored a thrilling win over Hawthorn.

But they also lost contested possessions in the round-three win over Carlton and Collingwood had Essendon’s measure on Anzac Day.

Hird admitted to relief that Essendon held on to beat the Saints in a game where they were strong favourites.

“It was a game that we didn’t ever feel we had full control of and full credit to St Kilda, their pressure was excellent,” Hird said.

“They certainly got through our defence too easily.

“It could have gone either way.”

Hird was then asked if Essendon were lucky.

“We missed a lot of shots in front of goal and they did too,” he said.

“Whenever it’s within two points, either side could have won the game.

“Credit to our guys – we weren’t playing great, because St Kilda wouldn’t let us play well, but they hung in the game and they kept working through it.”

Hird praised captain Jobe Watson and fellow midfielders Dyson Heppell, Ben Howlett and Brent Stanton for leading the way in the second term.

Essendon trailed by 20 points, but reduced that to only a point at the main break.

Veteran defender Dustin Fletcher was also pivotal in the first half, only four days away from his 40th birthday.

Fletcher stopped a near-certain goal in the second quarter with a desperate smother.

Hird said Fletcher is an inspiration for remaining such an effective player as he draws within three games of the 400 milestone.

Forward Paddy Ambrose also impressed with 2.3 and eight tackles.

“I wouldn’t like to be on the end of one of his tackles, because he tackles to hurt,” Hird said.

“You know when you’re tackled by Paddy.”

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