North Melbourne maintained their perfect AFL season despite staggering to the line to record a 14-point victory over Essendon.
The Kangaroos were cruising at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, squeezing the life out of the Bombers in a record-setting first-half.
With just four behinds on the scoreboard at the main break, Essendon had posted their worst opening half in 101 years and looked to be writing another dark chapter into their rotten recent history.
The Bombers righted their ship after the break and kicked the last six goals of the match to regain respect in their 10.14 (74) to 8.12 (60) loss.
For the Kangaroos, it was an eighth-straight win – their best start to a season since 1978 – but the result felt different to the previous victories for coach Brad Scott.
“It’s probably a win that felt like a loss,” he said.
The Kangaroos were in total control at half time, looking every inch the league leaders.
Sam Gibson and Andrew Swallow were irrepressible in the midfield, while Ben Jacobs kept in-form Bomber David Zaharakis to just four touches.
Majak Daw and Drew Petrie were giving lively forward-line performances and all of North’s defence deserved credit for their ferocious shut-down job.
Then it all changed.
The Bombers emerged a revitalised team, Orazio Fantasia snapped his side’s first goal and they kept on pushing.
Mason Redman kicked his first AFL goal and soon enough the Dons had tallied five in a defiant quarter.
Bombers captain Brendon Goddard was powering his side home, Zach Merrett had 22 second-half touches and James Kelly played a steadying hand.
When Kyle Langford kicked two last-term goals, Essendon were within 22 points with plenty of time left, but thankfully for the Roos their half time buffer proved enough.
Scott was able to see the biggest positive amidst the fade-out; the four premiership points.
“When you’re undefeated as a coach you think there’s a wake-up call coming,” he said.
“It’s fantastic for us that we got that wake-up call in the second half but we still put a `W’ in the win-loss column.”
Despite the defeat, the Bombers were cheered off by their home fans after turning a 52-point deficit into a 14-point loss.
Beaten coach John Worsfold said they were not applauding the defeat but “the future of where these players are showing they want to take the club”.
“We want to build something special and this group is making themselves proud,” he said.