Joe Daniher kicked five goals as Essendon shrugged off a horror week to edge Melbourne by nine points at the MCG on Saturday.
Coming off a demoralising 110-point loss to St Kilda and still coming to grips with the season-ending injury to inspirational skipper Jobe Watson, the Bombers dug deep to score a brave 10.9 (69) to 7.18 (60) win.
Daniher, lambasted of late for his struggles in front of goal, was the dominant forward on the ground, while Michael Hurley was equally important down back for Essendon, who got out to a 25-point lead in the third quarter before seeing off a late charge by the Demons.
After their listless effort against the Saints, the Bombers needed a sharp lift in intensity and they delivered in a bruising first quarter.
Brendon Goddard was perhaps the best example of that improvement, with the former Saint eclipsing last week’s quiet seven-possession effort with an influential 10 touches as Essendon edged in front before the Demons hit back through Dom Tyson to level the scores at quarter-time.
The grim battle for territory broke open only occasionally in the second term, with Bernie Vince and Max Gawn important as the Demons gained the upper hand.
Jeremy Howe ensured the sling tackle debate will keep bubbling along for another week when his effort on Alex Browne left the Bomber concussed and out of the game.
Goddard’s influence waned after Daniel Cross was sent to mind him, but Brent Stanton took up the lead role with 21 disposals and a goal to halftime.
The Bombers did well to hit the front on the back of a Daniher set shot, but they trailed by five points at the main break after an impressive long goal to Aaron vandenBerg.
The dour contest needed a spark and Daniher provided it with three goals in a pivotal third quarter in which Essendon piled on six goals to one to lead by 24 points at three-quarter time.
Melbourne full-back Tom McDonald struggled against Daniher, but he was sent forward in the final term and had an immediate impact.
He provided a focus for the Demons’ late rally that sliced the margin to just two points. But he managed just 1.2 with one out on the full as the wasteful Dees were left to rue missed opportunities.