Essendon coach John Worsfold has described his team as their own worst enemy as they ground their way to an ugly 29-point win over Fremantle that kept their faint AFL finals hopes alive.
The Bombers remain in touch with the top eight but didn't look deserving of a play-off berth for much of the Etihad Stadium match on Saturday as they escaped with a 13.21 (99) to 11.4 (70) victory.
The lead changed hands nine times before the Bombers banked their ninth win of the season, with gun small forward Orazio Fantasia returning from a groin injury to finish with five goals.
Mitch Brown also kicked three while Zach Merrett was integral in their dominant final quarter and finished with 28 possessions.
"We were our own worst enemy for a fair part of the game," Worsfold said.
"Just coughing the ball up when we didn't need to and Fremantle scoring off that kept the score close and the pressure on the anxiety high for most of the game."
The first half was one to forget even for the Essendon faithful.
They dominated Fremantle everywhere except on the scoreboard, converting just four goals from 32 inside 50s while kicking 11 behinds.
Despite in-form ruckman Sean Darcy a late withdrawal with a groin injury, the Dockers held an eight-point halftime lead, booting 7.1 (43) from their 17 inside 50s.
The Bombers' cause wasn't helped when they lost their main target inside 50, Shaun McKernan, early in the second quarter.
McKernan clutched at his hamstring after a high leap and had to be assisted from the field by two trainers. He looks set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines.
Essendon started the second half in better form, with goals to David Zaharakis, in his first game in six weeks, and Fantasia.
The duo added some class and speed to the line-up to help them get across the line.
While they looked as if they should romp home, they couldn't shake the tenacious Dockers, who again regained the lead through veteran David Mundy.
The Bombers took a one-goal lead into the final term and after three behinds, Mitch Brown found the target to open up their biggest lead of the match at 10 points.
Fremantle forward Cam McCarthy kicked true to keep his team in the hunt before the Bombers finally got some rewards for their efforts.
Goals to Devon Smith and David Myers gave Essendon some breathing space before Fantasia deservedly iced the win.
Michael Walters starred for the Dockers with three goals, while Lachie Neale was their major ball winner with 30 possessions.
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon said his team did well to stay in the fight.
"Our endeavour was strong for a young team," he said.
"If they had taken their opportunities it would have been over a lot earlier ... but I was pleased that we kept trying."