Up against the Western Bulldogs, the team that ended its season in last year’s elimination final, the Bombers were once again cruelled by the usual problems: back half turnovers and a general lack of defence, as the Dogs ran out 16. 7. (103) to 10 .11. (71) winners at Marvel Stadium.
Despite only being in his second season as the solo coach, Rutten is already facing immense pressure from a fan-base that has become restless with the club’s galling lack of success over the last two decades.
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Following his side’s 32-point loss, Rutten said “frustration” was the overriding emotion for not only him, but everyone at the club, including the players and other members of the coaching staff.
“I sense (the frustration from fans) because I feel it too,” he told reporters.
“We’re all in this together. I think they know on the back of some performances last year and at stages through this year, they can see the level that we’re capable of. That’s where the frustration is with us.
“I feel probably exactly the way they do at the moment.”
The Bulldogs, not known for being a clinical side in front of goal, put the Bombers to the sword on the back of 26 defensive-half turnovers which led directly to eight goals.
“None of our boys are trying to make mistakes – and the game is littered with mistakes – but it feels like at the moment, there are some more basic fundamental errors that we’re making that are really damaging and costly,” Rutten said of the team’s turnover problems.
“They punished us and their ability to connect off turnover off intercept was far more effective than us … It was on a completely different level.”
A couple of junk time goals might’ve made the score look a little more respectable from an Essendon perspective, but a deeper look at the numbers shows the Bombers are currently well off being anywhere near worthy of a top-eight spot.
Despite winning the disposal count 393-380, much of those were handballs either sideways or backwards, with the uninspired ball movement a far cry from the run and gun style that made Essendon one of the most watchable sides in 2021.
The Bulldogs smashed Essendon 66-39 in the Inside 50 count and led for all but 10 minutes throughout the match, with the contest virtually over midway through the third term.
The buzzwords ‘game style’ have been thrown around at will over the last few seasons at Essendon, and Rutten once again referred to the brand of football he wanted – and is currently not getting – from his players.
“We’re working really hard. Clearly we’re not where we want to be at the moment,” he said.
“We want to create a more consistent, dependable brand and style of footy week-in, week-out. Regardless of opposition, regardless of result, we want to make sure that we are playing a more consistent brand of footy.
“We’ve got a pretty committed, driven group. They’re hurting at the moment, they’re frustrated with the inconsistencies. But we need to support them and us as a whole footy club need to continue to work together on it.”
With his team’s season all but done at 1-6, Rutten’s side faces a match that is simply a must-win next week, against arch-rivals Hawthorn.
The Hawks, who finished 14th last year, and are in the early stages of a rebuild, have already recorded three wins, while also being competitive in a number of close losses.
Lose that, and Essendon’s restless fans will wonder why yet another club has surpassed theirs over the last 12 months.