St Kilda remain in the race for the eight but Hawthorn has run out of legs as the AFL home straight draws near.
Jack Billings slotted a match-sealing goal in the dying seconds as the Saints clung on for a nailbiting eight-point victory over West Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The 15.13 (103) to 14.11 (95) win ensures the Saints are part of the logjam of teams pushing for a top-eight finish.
Essendon (eighth), West Coast (ninth), Melbourne (10th) and St Kilda (11th) all finished the round on 40 points, a game behind the seventh-placed Western Bulldogs.
“At 10-9, it’s good to be positive and it’s an opportunity to keep heading forward, but every week is a real challenge,” Saints coach Alan Richardson said.
“We’ve got Melbourne next week, so we now need to rest up and get our bodies and minds right and whack away again. That’s our focus.”
Eagles coach Adam Simpson was also upbeat despite his side again proving unreliable in a tight finish.
“That was a big one, but there’s still a pulse,” he said.
“The boys are pretty tight at the moment, they’re pretty galvanised, and despite all the outside noise they’re still having a go.
“We’re still going in with a really positive mindset this week.”
The Bombers scratched out an eight-point win over old foes Carlton on Saturday, while Melbourne slumped to a 35-point loss to Greater Western Sydney in Canberra.
Hawthorn’s 29-point loss to Richmond at the MCG on Sunday left them six points back of the pack and effectively out of finals contention.
The Tigers made short work of the in-form Hawks, winning 13.15 (93) to 9.10 (64) in Jarryd Roughead’s 250th match in the brown and gold.
It was another deeply impressive win for the Tigers, who leapfrogged Geelong to sit third on the ladder.
The bad news kept coming for the Cats, with skipper Joel Selwood set to miss the final three rounds of the season after injuring his ankle during their 56-point loss to Sydney on Friday night.
Geelong on Sunday confirmed Selwood would undergo surgery for a syndesmosis injury on his left ankle, adding that he was expected to return in time for the finals.
Adelaide went six points clear at the top of the ladder after smashing crosstown rivals Port by 84 points in Sunday’s Showdown.
Reigning premiers the Bulldogs continued their resurgent form with a 14-point win on the road over Brisbane, but it was soured by a hamstring injury to former skipper Easton Wood.
Collingwood’s 54-point drubbing of North Melbourne was overshadowed by a heavy tackle from Brodie Grundy on Ben Brown which left the Kangaroos forward concussed.
Grundy was one of several key players set to face scrutiny from the match review panel along with Giants ruckman Shane Mumford and Bombers midfielder Zach Merrett.