Brisbane Lions midfielder Hugh McCluggage is feeling nervous and it's not the injuries to star duo Daniel Rich and Dayne Zorko that has him on edge.
Rich and Zorko will miss Sunday's AFL clash with Essendon at the Gabba after picking up minor hamstring injuries in last week's 41-point win over the Western Bulldogs.
But they will have power forward Eric Hipwood after the AFL Tribunal fined him for pushing an opponent into the path of an umpire.
Despite missing the two stars, the Lions will start as hot favourites against lowly Essendon.
But it is the tight nature of the ladder that has left McCluggage with a nervous lump in his throat.
The Lions (11-4) are in third spot, wedged in between the second-placed Cats (11-4) and the fourth-placed Dockers (11-4).
Carlton and Collingwood are just one win further back while even ninth-placed St Kilda (9-6) are within striking distance.
The race for top-four spots is set to intensify over the coming weeks and McCluggage knows there's little margin for error.
"When we lost to Melbourne (two weeks ago) all of a sudden you're back with the pack," McCluggage said.
"You get a bit of breathing room (when you win), but it can quickly go back the other way if you lose one or two in a row.
"It just feels so tight up there between second to sixth, seventh. And even eighth, ninth, 10th - they're all close.
"It's great viewing. It's good for footy but it makes you pretty nervous as a club and as a player.
"I think you play better footy when you're on edge and you must win. Every game this year is like that. It's a little bit like a final every week. It's great fun to be playing."
Brisbane take on flag fancies Carlton, Richmond and Melbourne among their final seven games.
Australian Associated Press
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