Heat on Bombers stokes AFL rivalry

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All the pressure heading into the AFL's traditional Anzac Day blockbuster is on Essendon.

And that makes the Bombers a dangerous proposition in the eyes of Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury.

"One thing I do know about this day is it doesn't matter your form leading into the game because everyone finds (another level)," Pendlebury said.

"It's impossible to give more than 100 per cent but I feel like on this day everyone does.

"It feels like a finals game and the atmosphere is just unbelievable."

Expert commentators and past players, including former Essendon captains Matthew Lloyd and Brendon Goddard, have put the Bombers' early-season woes under the microscope this week.

Alarming trends -- poor defensive efforts, a lack of pressure and struggles around the contest -- have been highlighted in a 1-4 start to the campaign.

The criticism has been fierce, and largely warranted.

"You take things to heart at times but internally you've got to try and steady the ship," Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell said.

"Guys have handled things really well, they've taken ownership of the way we're performing and we're not shying away from that.

"It's a really great opportunity and what better way to try and stand up than on Anzac Day."

Essendon don't need to look far back to see a way out of such a mess.

They reached Anzac Day last year at 1-4, won by four goals and then slipped to 2-6 before recovering to reach the finals.

The call to bring back experienced stars Jake Stringer (hamstring) and Zach Merrett (syndesmosis) from injuries earlier than first expected could help the Bombers' cause on Monday as they search for a circuit-breaker victory.

But Collingwood have been bolstered by the inclusions of forward-line trio Brody Mihocek, Beau McCreery and Jack Ginnivan.

Key defender Jordan Roughead is out with a finger injury and tall forward Mason Cox was dropped.

There is fresh optimism around Collingwood (2-3) under new coach Craig McRae, who has brought a new attacking focus that has been well received by his players.

It has revitalised 17-year veteran Pendlebury, a three-time Anzac Day medallist, who enters his 15th Anzac Day fixture with a distinct sense of positivity around Magpies' prospects.

"We're still trying to find momentum, confidence and stability in our side week to week but I feel like what we're putting out is a strong brand of football that will stack up in big games," Pendlebury said.

"The most promising thing has been our pressure.

"We're tackling really well, we're getting after sides and playing some front-half football ... we've just got to do it for longer."

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