Six weeks after Essendon were humiliated by Sydney, coach Ben Rutten has hailed their nine-point win over the Swans as the perfect response and a sign of the young Bombers' growing belief.
The Bombers overcame an 11-point deficit at three-quarter time, with Jake Stringer pulling off a monster final term, to prevail 15.5 (95) to 12.14 (86), putting a dent in Sydney's top-four hopes and easing pressure on Rutten.
The MCG victory dashed memories of round nine, when Sydney co-captain Luke Parker taunted Dylan Shiel for a perceived lack of hardness.
Rutten delighted in Essendon's fightback from a lacklustre first quarter and how they took Sydney to task around the contest, especially in the final term.
"It was certainly a response in terms of the last time we played Sydney, absolutely," he said.
"In some respects (facing Sydney six games later) was advantageous for us because the guys were really keen to leave a different perception with the opposition this week and I think they've got that."
Rutten stopped short of calling the win Essendon's finest of the season.
"Today you could almost feel and sense a bit of that belief growing as the game went on," he said.
"To beat Sydney at any time is a really strong performance.
"So for our group to experience that today was something I think will just continue to build that belief within them that they're capable of that sort of footy."
Rutten said Essendon's "leaders stood up", hailing Zach Merrett's "complete" three-goal midfield showing and Stringer's ability to take the fourth quarter by the scruff of the neck.
He delighted in how the Bombers shared the ball, with Dyson Heppell, Merrett, Darcy Parish, Massimo D'Ambrosio and Nick Hind all busy.
Parker was excellent in his 250th game while Chad Warner starred with three goals, seven clearances and 25 disposals.
In the second quarter, Essendon booted five consecutive goals to take the lead.
But Sydney didn't go away, putting Essendon's backline under siege in the third term and Isaac Heeney and Will Hayward struck late to deliver an 11-point lead at the final change.
Stringer answered his team's call, booting a magnificent checkside and one on the run to revive the contest.
Mason Redman put Essendon back in front, with Kyle Langford adding another goal.
Warner goaled from a Stringer 50-metre penalty to keep it tight, before Hind iced the game in the final minute.
"There were times when we played really well and there were times when we played well and didn't capitalise and there were times like the last quarter where we got beaten at contested ball and smacked at stoppages," Sydney coach John Longmire said.
"We probably let it slip through our fingers at different times in the last quarter."
Longmire said Heeney had managed a sore knee from the first quarter but was uncertain if it would force him to miss games.
Essendon will be without Archie Perkins (calf) for at least two games after he withdrew on Friday, but should regain Andrew McGrath (adductor) against Brisbane.
Peter Wright could come under match review officer scrutiny for a fourth-quarter hit to Paddy McCartin's back.
Australian Associated Press
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