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The Age

Friday April 11, 2008

Rohan Connolly

The Bombers have lost Lucas and Lloyd, but the new game plan means they may not be needed.

WHEN Scott Lucas went down injured early in Essendon's first game of the season, coach Matthew Knights and crew would have consoled themselves that at least they still had Matthew Lloyd.

That was until the Bomber skipper pulled out of the side for tonight's game against the Western Bulldogs with a calf injury.

Essendon kicked a total of 320 goals last season. Lloyd kicked 62 of them, Lucas 61 - a combined 38% of its entire tally. Without them, it seems a task for the coach to find even a straw at which to clutch. Or perhaps not.

Knights' answer to the obvious question, "who's going to kick the goals?" could be found in the Bombers' selected 22, which, even without Lloyd and Lucas, couldn't find a spot for tall forward Courtney Johns. The answer rests in a variety of sources, and the statement implicit in Essendon's team for tonight is that the fledgling senior coach is going to back his game plan all the way.

And fair enough, too, on the evidence presented by the Bombers' two wins, both of which have yielded at least as many goals as were managed in any of their 22 outings in 2007.

Against North Melbourne, Lloyd kicked six, but the Dons still managed 11 individual goalkickers. Last week against Carlton, the skipper booted just four of 23, and no fewer than 14 players found themselves on the scoresheet.

The bottom line is that Essendon's new-found commitment to quick movement of the football brought religiously through the corridor gives it at least a chance of kicking a decent score even with a makeshift forward set-up - a chance it would never have had last year if the two "Ls" had been out of the equation.

The forward line this evening will feature a resting ruckman, either Jason Laycock or David Hille, in the goal square, and an undersized but mobile centre half-forward in Adam McPhee.

There's an "in-betweener" in the difficult-to-match-up Nathan Lovett-Murray, a resting on-baller who is good overhead for his size in Mark McVeigh, a genuine crumbing forward in Alwyn Davey, then it's down to on-ballers such as Andy Lovett, Jason Winderlich, Ricky Dyson, Brent Stanton, Bachar Houli and Angus Monfries to pull their goalkicking weight.

If the Bulldogs manage to slow down their speedy opponents going forward, it could be a disaster for the Bombers. If they don't, as unlikely as it may seem to some, the Dons could still be a chance.

It's a formula with which tonight's opponent is familiar, the Bulldogs having made it to the finals two years ago without a recognised tall forward, but with the third-highest "points for" tally in the competition.

The Dogs are still far from giants near goal, which could also help Essendon, allowing perhaps a Dustin Fletcher or Paddy Ryder to help supplement the forward stocks that are available.

Knights has freely conceded the new-look Bombers have looked, not surprisingly, towards Geelong for inspiration. And the Cats also offer some hope as he attempts to cajole his men into a genuine belief they still have the necessary armoury to win tonight.

Key forward Cam Mooney was Geelong's leading goalkicker last season with 67, a fair tally for sure, but one which comprised only 16% of the Cats' total.

What Geelong had was potential goalkickers in virtually every corner. No fewer than six players - Mooney, Steve Johnson, Nathan Ablett, Matthew Stokes, Paul Chapman and Gary Ablett - finished the season with at least 30 goals to their name.

Mooney's 16% was the lowest for any premiership team's main goalkicker since Alastair Lynch led the Brisbane Lions' tally with only 58 majors in 2001.

The figure seems to be steadily decreasing, Barry Hall with 24% of Sydney's total in 2005, Quinten Lynch with only 17% of West Coast's the following year.

At the other end of the scale, Brendan Fevola won a Coleman Medal two years ago with 84 goals. That was a whopping 33% of what Carlton could manage as a unit, and we all know where the Blues finished.

Of course, it doesn't mean Essendon won't miss the obvious goalscoring talents of Lloyd and Lucas at the Dome this evening. But at least this season there still seems to be some point in the Bombers turning up to play.

© 2008 The Age

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