From Bendigo Advertiser

ADAM Ramanauskas yesterday made an emotional return to football after more than two years out of the game, but the Metricon Bendigo Bombers could not welcome him back with a win.

The Bombers were beaten 15.12 (102) to 14.11 (95) by reigning VFL premier Sandringham in the round three encounter at Windy Hill.

But it was the long-awaited return of Ramanauskas that will be the talking point out of the game.

It was Ramanauskas' first game since April 10, 2005, with the 26-year-old enduring a recurrence of cancer in his neck and a serious knee injury in the past two years.

A crowd of 2500 people gave Ramanauskas – now on Essendon's rookie list – a stirring ovation as he ran on to the ground.

He started on the bench, but was into the action 14 minutes into the first quarter.

Ramanauskas went on to collect 12 possessions and laid four tackles, and showed all his traits of calmness under pressure in an encouraging return by the 2000 Essendon premiership player.

"It was a huge story of everything he has gone through to come back and play," Bombers general manager Matthew Allan said.

"We will take a lot from it and we're pretty proud of the way Rama went about it.

"A lot of our guys in their first year were pretty lucky to play with Rama today, it's just disappointing we couldn't get a win for him."

After an even first quarter in which scores were level at 3.3 (21) apiece, the Zebras began to take control in the second term to open up an 18-point lead at half-time.

Sandringham, which went into the game on top of the ladder, continued to maintain an 18-point buffer deep into time-on of the final quarter.

However, the Bombers slammed on four goals in five minutes to take the lead by six points, and with a vocal crowd behind them, looked like recording one of the club's most remarkable victories in its history.

However, the Zebras steadied with the last two goals of the match, including a fourth to full-forward Nick

Sautner from a free-kick in the goal square, to wrest back the lead and remain undefeated.

"We started the last quarter 15 points down, and we fought back really well, but unfortunately, Sandringham kicked a couple of goals at the end to beat us," Allan said.

"But I think there are still a lot of positives to take out of the game, and getting

Rama through the game was a big priority."

Yesterday was high-profile recruit Jason Cloke's first game for the Bombers.

Playing on the wing, Cloke had 28 possessions in a solid debut for his new club.

The defeat leaves the Bombers with a 1-2 record and in 10th position on the ladder.

"Jason had 28 possessions, but having said that, he wasn't at his best," Allan said.

"So we are pretty excited with what Jason can bring to the club for the rest of the year."