Essendon coach James Hird's overriding emotion was one of pride following Sunday's tense four-point loss to Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.
The Bombers saw their 28-point second-quarter lead whittled away as the Crows powered to the lead in the third term before a tense final stanza ensued, in which the game was in dispute until the closing seconds, with the footy deep inside Essendon's forward line when the final siren sounded.
The under-manned visitors had a clear-cut 19-9 inside 50s advantage in the fourth period, but fell agonisingly shy of overtaking Adelaide at the end.
"I'm very proud of our players," Hird said.
"They certainly turned up to play. We've gone through a bit of a form slump over the last month.
"We weren't very good against Hawthorn or Geelong. Our football this week against Adelaide was of a much higher quality.
"Our boys have been terrific all year in their resilience, (and) the way they've fought through.
"We knew they were going to stay in the game because that's the quality of people we've got.
"It's disappointing but I'm very proud of the way our players played."
The scoreboard pressure from the Crows after half-time wasn't the only reason the visitors were forced to dig deep.
The injury-ravaged Bombers' season-long soft-tissue curse struck twice, with aggressive on-baller Ben Howlett subbing out mid-way through the second quarter, and Jason Winderlich who booted a career-best four goals, playing his 100th AFL game in his 10th season limping off in the third stanza, both with hamstring injuries.
The double blow, on the back of the late pre-game withdrawals of veteran defender Dustin Fletcher and midfielder Ricky Dyson, left Essendon severely under-manned, making their four-quarter fight all the more admirable.
Hird confirmed Howlett's injury was less serious than that of Winderlich, who was playing just his second game in 15 months, following a left knee reconstruction last year.
"Jason has torn his hamstring around the site where he had the graft for his knee reconstruction, so that's disappointing," Hird said.
"I thought Jason's first two-and-a-half quarters were outstanding.
"It's only his second game back from a knee reco ... he kicked four goals and dominated in the forward line.
"It's disappointing for us, but more importantly (disappointing) for him in his 100th game.
"Ben Howlett looks like he's got a small hamstring as well.
"It's very disappointing to lose those two guys."
With in-form North Melbourne next on the agenda this Sunday at Etihad Stadium, the Bombers will be desperate to avoid a fourth successive defeat, which will leave their top-eight hopes on tenterhooks.
"We know it'll be a tough task, but these boys have come up every week except for two this year and given it a real crack," Hird said.
"We'll see that on Sunday against North Melbourne. (Against Adelaide), the game was played the way we wanted to play it."The message to our players was I was proud of the way they played but we're never happy with losing."