Demons go clear on top of AFL ladder

·2-min read

Melbourne have held off a spirited challenge from Essendon to win by 11 points and go two games clear on top of the AFL ladder as they close within reach of their first minor premiership in 57 years.

Even prolific performances from star midfielders Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett weren't enough for the young Bombers to spring an upset in front of 19,414 fans at the MCG on Saturday night.

Christian Petracca stepped up with two important goals in the third quarter in a typically explosive performance to ensure the Demons bounced back from their shock defeat to Collingwood.

Essendon were never far away and still appeared a sneaky chance late, but the Demons' four-goal run from late in the second quarter to midway through the third proved enough as Melbourne won 9.14 (68) to 8.9 (57) and go 12-2.

With eight rounds to go, the Demons could maintain their eight-point advantage in top spot as second-placed Western Bulldogs face a mammoth challenge against West Coast at Optus Stadium on Sunday.

Not since their last flag year in 1964 have Melbourne finished as minor premiers.

It was a workmanlike performance from the Demons, who had lost two of their last three games before the bye, to fend off a Bombers team full of enthusiasm.

"We wanted to celebrate the position we were in; we were 11-2 and had done a lot right from where we started the season," Demons coach Simon Goodwin said.

"There were just some elements in our game and the way we were going about our footy that weren't quite to the level at the break so it was a great chance to reset themselves.

"They had some really fruitful discussions around what they wanted to stand for again and that was led by (Max Gawn and Jack Viney)."

Newly re-signed Bombers star Merrett had 26 first-half possessions on his way to an equal career-high 41, while Parish (37 touches) and Jake Stringer were always dangerous.

"I was really pleased with our fight and our effort and I think we're closing the gap," Bombers coach Ben Rutten said.

"Our games against (top-eight side) Port, Brisbane, Richmond and now Melbourne, our guys are getting more trust in what we're trying to do but we're not quite there yet."

The Demons forward line looked dysfunctional early after dropping Sam Weideman, but they found enough avenues as Petracca and James Jordon were their only multiple goal-kickers.

As well as Petracca's brilliance, fellow Brownlow Medal contender Clayton Oliver was important around the clearances with 34 possessions.

Melbourne will be back at the MCG next Saturday to face GWS, while Essendon (6-8) head to Geelong for the first time since 1993 to tackle the Cats at GMHBA Stadium on Friday night.

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