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Ridley, Stringer shine amid Bombers' midfield concens

Jordan Ridley's outstanding AFL return and Jake Stringer's barnstorming milestone game helped paper over Essendon midfield cracks in their win over Richmond.

The Bombers went into Saturday night's annual Dreamtime At The 'G blockbuster as red-hot favourites, but were pushed all the way by the resurgent Tigers before winning by 12 points.

For the second week in a row, the Bombers lost the clearances and coach Brad Scott admitted it forced them to swing changes during the match.

With a dangerous trip to the Gold Coast and then a massive game against arch-rivals Carlton to come, second-placed Essendon have work to do.

Other than captain Zach Merrett, who was outstanding, and Sam Durham, Essendon's midfield failed to fire against Richmond.

"The most pleasing thing about the last couple of weeks is our centre bounce work hasn't been great, and so we've been on the back foot in that part of the game, but we were still able to resurrect it and get the game back on our terms," Scott said

"I keep talking about sustainable footy and having that sort of deficit is not sustainable."

While Essendon struggled to break even in the middle, Ridley and Stringer were outstanding at either end of the ground.

Ridley was best afield in his first AFL game since round 19 last season.

The defender has been sidelined with leg problems and Scott held him back an extra couple of weeks to make sure Ridley's body was right.

Scott said he never would have forgiven himself if he'd brought back Ridley too early and he was hurt again, so they erred on the side of caution.

Other than an early turnover, Ridley looked like he'd been playing all season.

"There are very few guys who can have a long layoff and just look like they haven't missed a beat," Scott said.

"He's one of those."

Saturday night was significant for Essendon's defence because it was the first time Ridley and recruit Ben McKay had played together, outside a pre-season game.

Having McKay as their main key backman clearly frees up Ridley, who was a big problem for the Tigers all night.

In his 200th game, Stringer gave Essendon a hot start with three first-quarter goals and he finished with a game-high haul of four.

Alongside him, last year's No.10 draft pick Nate Caddy made his senior debut.

While Caddy only kicked two behinds, he showed some encouraging signs.

"I just thought he looked like an AFL player," Scott said.

Nik Cox's bad injury run continued when he grabbed at his left hamstring in the first quarter and had to be subbed out of the game.