Transition Defence - what went wrong vs Port?

A hot topic for discussion after our game against Port was our (lack of) defence in transition and the number of goals we let Port get from its back half with relative ease.

We have all likely seen the footage highlighted by Kane Cornes and @westozziebomber where three Essendon players surround Butters in transition, but let him get out the back, leading to an easy goal for Port.

What I did was replay the play a couple times and tried to identify what in particular went wrong to see what we needed to improve. Below is what stood out to me about the mistakes that were made over the entirety of the play. Now i don’t pretend to be an expert on football structures and tactics, so if i’ve missed anything or got anything wrong, please let me know.

1. Set up from the kick in
So the play starts with a Port kick in after we get a rushed behind. Jonas is taking the kick out and kicks it 30m to Houston in the pocket (see below).

What is immediately noticeable is obviously how much space we have given Houston. If Houston wanted to, he could have ran 15m before having to dispose of the ball. You have to immediately look to the forward line and ask why they havent set up properly to cover Port’s defenders in this situation.

If you look slightly further ahead, you see there are even more issues with our structure as there is only one Essendon player (Caldwell), really guarding three Port players in the corridor (you can actually see one of the Port players pointing to this free man).

If we are trying to be a forward half team we should have a web of players guarding this space, but we really have no structure at all. This is disappointing given the talk from the preseason that this was a focus.

2. Defensive structure
Despite Houston having this clear short option, he actually doesn’t use it.

Looking further up the field our structure is as follows.

  • Ridley is matched up on Dixon (see the green circle in the picture below)
  • Cahill is matched up on Raz (see blue circle)
  • Francis has let his man Georgiades go further up the field (see the yellow circles).

Now people might want to say why on earth Francis is giving Georgiades this much space, but behind the goal footage from later in the quarter shows that this was likely an instructional thing, with Franga instructed to keep his depth in defence and allow his man to go further up the ground:

Now this is where you have to give credit to Houston for a great play. Houston quickly identifies that Georgiades is free and Ridley is boundary side of Dixon, and initially shapes to kick down the line but last minute brings the ball to the corridor.

Now this is where things really start to break down for Essendon.

Cahill gets drawn to the ball because it is coming straight to him, while Raz, because he knows Georgiades is free to likely take the mark, does not get sucked into the contest and falls back towards his forward 50.

Unlike Raz, Francis does get sucked into the contest and as a result is no longer the free man in the backline and is actually standing next to Raz now (see green circle). You can see how much further Francis has come up the ground, but he is in no man’s land nowhere near the contest.Now you have to be critical of Francis for making this decision (but i will get back to that later).

A quick side note is how much better the Port mids are set up at the fall of the ball in the instance where the ball hits the deck, with Caldwell and Cox on the outside of their opponents.

3. The players covering Butters
Now i wont go over this for long as it has already been covered. In it’s most simplest terms, these players do the same thing as Francis and get sucked into the contest, but not close enough to impact it, and as a result let Butters get space on the outside.

Here they are these three players (Ham, Redman and McGrath) surrounding Butters when the ball is in Houston’s hands (red circle):

Compared to when the ball is about to be marked by Georgiades:

Not a great bit of footage is it.

Now i can possibly understand why Redman may be moving inwards as he may be trying to cover Raz because Cahill is in the marking contest, but you’d imagine the coaches would be showing this footage to Ham who’s seemingly run past Butters without attempting to man him up at all.

As a result, after Georgiades takes the mark, he looks up and Butters now has 30m on his nearest opponent and hits him up uncontested on the edge of the 50. Raz is also right next to Butters as Francis’ momentum is going the other direction and Franga simply cant keep up with Raz anyway.

Now back to Francis. Interestingly, if Francis hadn’t have gotten drawn to the contest and instead kept his depth as the sweeper, he actually would have been able to prevent the kick to Butters as he starts this play pretty close to where Butters ends up marking the ball.

We also would have been in a pretty good position to hold up Port’s ball movement here, as Port’s two tall targets in Dixon and Georgiades are way up the ground, meaning Port would have no tall targets in the forward 50 to kick to.

So in summary, clearly a lot went wrong here, and boy do Rutten, Carracella and Giansiracusa have a lot of work on their hands. The main focus will be to keep reinforcing to the players that they need to keep to their structures and keep their width rather than being drawn to the ball, which is exposing them on the rebound.

If this post gets traction there is another interesting play from later in the quarter which has similar issues, which i am happy to breakdown if people are interested.


i for one am providing the traction.


I’m getting mad deja vu from this thread.

Seriously, this is the same issue we’ve had for who knows how many years. Getting smashed on the rebound.

I have to wonder, is it our coaches thinking they know better than media analysts? Are they genuinely inept so as to not show this footage to the actual players to make sure it doesn’t happen? Are our players seriously that stupid that they cannot learn this after multiple years?

I just cannot understand how I’m seeing the same problems through multiple coaches, coaching setups, player groups, etc. Please someone tell me, it is killing me


This is what happens when you poach an award winning midfield coach and make him the backline coach.

And Don’t underestimate the effect that the absence of Heppell or any other vocal leaders in that backline group had. Francis, Ridley, Cahill, Laverde, Hind, Gleeson and Redman isn’t a lot of leadership to organise the defence against one of the best forwardline in the competition


A high turnover of coaches and players will do that.



It’s Olympic Rings in an Olympic year. A yes from me

This has been an underrated issue for us so far this year. In both games, it seemed like almost every marking contest ended with a Port/Hawks player picking up the crumbs. We’ve just got to get blokes front and centre. I swear they teach this stuff in junior footy. It’s basic football.


So looks like it’s just our players being dumb, getting sucked towards a contest they have no hope of impacting, which leaves their man to sprint further up the ground to receive the ball later.

EDIT: i reckon they’re also quite often guilty of ball watching instead of reading the play and being aware of where their opponents are. In today’s game, that extra metre or two of space is way too much to make up and make a contest.

Dumb, dumb footballers.


Great post and analysis.

What is lacking - and what the photos can’t show - is the lack of leadership on the ground with the leaders instructing players to maintain their zone position and not get drawn to contests that can’t influence leaving space behind them to allow the opposition to then get through and run free and unpressured into goal.

This is where Heppell’s absence from the backline - and Hurley/Hooker - hurts in particular.

It’s a big lesson for Francis whose “see ball get ball” natural instinct is going to draw him to where he thinks the ball is going.

But I think tactically it is in issue as well - our half backs should be dropping back to where Francis is to form a 3 man line. I think our half backs press way too high and we saw that in Q3 when the Hawk smalls made merry with acres of space in their F50 with their opponents stranded up the ground.

With the youngest and least experienced team in the comp last weekend you would expect issues such as this until they get that experience.


This is why I liked it back in the 70s when you just played in your man,you could tell who stuffed right away



Do you think Francis is looking for the ball to come over the back of the contest to Raz?

PS nice play by Langford directly before this that leads to the point.
PPS nice bump by Walla on Hartlett that gets replayed during the play
PPPS even though he and Redman are the ones that lose Butters, Gleek’s smartarse hedge while he’s running with Butters and Raz was good… using his brain in a hopeless situation.

It’s just how well drilled, experienced, cohesive sides pick holes in a side that’s lacking in these areas.
The culprits here: Cahill 5? games, Ham 15 games, Franga 40, Redman 50? - McGrath the grand old man of 70 odd games.


The key Port players involved in this play were Georgiadies 7 games, Butters 36 games and Fanta 2 games with Port


Our senior players are just as guilty of the exact same thing, and often. So are they dumb, stubborn, or not being shown this glaringly obvious Achilles heel in the team.

Amazing analysis, the opening reminds me of this.

The TL:DR is that those kicks that open up the corridor are super important and being alert to small things (like getting on the mark) must be a non-negotiable.

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I don’t think they are, really.

Many other faults, but they’re generally better able to analyse numbers & organise a zone.

Thanks for the traction Blitz.

Here’s a look at another play. This second play also starts after a kick-in from Port and results in a coast to coast goal.

1. Set up from the kick in
Here’s our set up from behind the goals. You can see that our structure for this kick in is actually much than in the play in the original post, no clear pockets of space or free Port players.

You can see to the left of the screen a free Port player, but that is likely deliberate you’d say as it looks like we are content to allow that short sideways kick to allow ourselves to have the extra man further up the ground.

While we have the extra number up the ground, we don’t seem to be able to take advantage of this, as four Essendon players are located in the middle of the ground really nowhere near any Port opponent (see the red circles). This has allowed for a small pocket of space with a Port outnumber to the right of these players (see the blue circle).

Now our most guilty player here is probably Draper (located to the right of the larger red circle). As Houston is deciding what to do with the kickout, Draper is shown to be jogging up the middle of the ground, seemingly not caring to try and find his direct opponent in Ladhams (or any opponent really). He should know that if we set up our zone properly we will force Port to go long to a contest (and likely to their ruck) so its disappointing that Draper didn’t switch on to defence mode quickly enough here.

And I wonder what happens next? Houston kicks the ball Ladhams…

Ladhams who jumps over Jones

But Ridley spoils the ball…

This should be great right? We’ve successfully prevented Port from having clean play out of their defensive 50. So how do Port go coast to coast from here?

2. Defensive structure
Let’s look at our behind the ball set up:

  • In red, Francis is playing as the sweeper role, similar to before
  • In green, we have Ridley on Dixon and Laverde on Farrell
  • In pink, we have Ladhams free, and to the right, whatever Draper is meant to be doing, not even looking at the play.

Now same as the play from my initial post, we get exposed because our players get needlessly drawn into the contest.

If we move through the play slowly, we see that, as would be Ridley’s role, Ridley goes to the contest to spoil the kickout. However, Laverde makes the mistake to also get drawn to the ball.

What does Laverde’s opponent do? He doesn’t get sucked in to the contest and actually draws backwards.

Ball gets kicked to Ladhams so Dixon, Ridley and Laverde get drawn forward, while Farrell keeps his position:

Ball hits the contest, with Laverde lagging Ridley and as a result, completely loses Farrell:

Port regains possession when the ball hits the deck, and unsurprisingly, Boak hits up Farrell who has no opponent 30m near him.

This has a domino effect as Hind, who is guarding Raz has to go up to man the mark, which draws Francis out as the loose defender to have to guard Raz.

Hind on Raz, with Franga loose:

Hind moves up to Farrell:

Francis drawn wide to man Raz and is taken out of the play as the ball moves into the corridor:

3. Defensive running by mids
Here’s a look at how bad our defensive running was in this play.

Here’s Boak kicking the ball to Farrell:

… and here’s Boak getting a handball receive with no Essendon mid near him. He kicks it to Motlop on the lead, who marks and goals.

Overall, pretty amazing play by Boak here, you’ve got to admit.

So again in this play if Draper had have got to Ladhams, or if Laverde had have stayed on Farrell, we likely hold up Port here and lock it in our forward 50. Instead we do not keep our structures, and allow Port to expose us on the rebound.


One big issue the backline is having, actually has nothing to do with them imo

The amount of times they look up in open play and all the midfielders and forwards are just standing calling for the ball instead of leading and creating options is mind boggling.

The defenders are either pressured into turnovers by the opposition or have to kick to a contest.

You see top teams, and their players are always on the move creating options for the kicker