Carlton v Melbourne- What Happened?

It’s a typically wintery day in July. 1.10pm feels a lot more like 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, with gloomy clouds beset upon the MCG. Below grey skies, Carlton and Melbourne square off against one another. If you’d have said in the lead up to Round 1 that these two sides would play in Round 15 and that the Blues would be a fair chance of winning you’d have been called crazy.

However, those are the circumstances in which these two sides met on Sunday, with Melbourne’s well-documented slide down the ladder having them on a collision course with Carlton, and a win for the latter would have seen them leapfrog last year’s prelim finalists, and have the Demons in 17th place on the ladder with just seven games left in the season. This would have been especially surprising given that in their last meeting, in Round 9 last year, Melbourne beat a hapless Carlton outfit by 109 points.

Nevertheless, here these two sides were, both out of September contention, both having had their own struggles on the field and in the injury ward. Both sides were missing their best players, with Patrick Cripps having missed Carlton’s last start inspirational win over Fremantle, while Max Gawn picked up an ankle injury in last week’s loss to Brisbane at the Gabba and was a late out in this one, replaced by Braydon Preuss. These weren’t the only injuries for these teams though, with Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow the notable omissions for the home side, and Neville Jetta, Jake Lever and Jake Melksham all missing for the Dees. In one of the games of the season, here’s what happened:


Would Carlton Be Cripp-led, Or Were Melbourne’s Chances Gawn Before The Opening Bounce? 

For me this was certainly the most intriguing storyline of the afternoon. Patrick Cripps has certainly been nothing short of inspirational this season, his first as a full time captain, while Max Gawn has recovered from a, by his standards, slow start to the year to once again be in the conversation for the most influential player in the game. This was the first game Gawn had missed since Round 13, 2017, while Carlton’s midfield without Cripps last week looked a lot more even, with Marc Murphy, Jack Silvagni and Ed Curnow all standing up to get their side over the line.

Of course, Melbourne had recruited former North big man Braydon Preuss as back up to Gawn over the off season. It still confuses me that Preuss left North, where Todd Goldstein is in the twilight of his career, to go to Melbourne, where Gawn was an All Australian last year and a huge factor in their September campaign, for more game time. It was Preuss’ first game for his new club since Round 5, having played the last seven weeks in the VFL. Nevertheless, Preuss was pretty good against the Blues, dominating the hitouts mostly when Matt Kreuzer was off the ground in the second half, with eight score involvements and 14 disposals proving an adequate replacement for the irreplaceable Gawn.

On the topic of Kreuzer, he was also pretty handy today, despite missing a fair chunk of the third and fourth quarters. While Preuss did win the hitouts, Carlton won the clearances 41-36, with the 2007 Number One Pick having nine of his own. Only Clayton Oliver had more, while Kreuzer had two direct goal assists in among six score involvements. It’s a huge shame the football world hasn’t seen more of him, managing just 183 games out of a possible 263 since he was drafted.

Carlton’s midfield does look a lot more even without Cripps bearing the majority of the load, even if they are certainly not a better side without him in it. Ed Curnow was fantastic again today, with 10 score involvements and seven inside 50’s to go with 23 disposals, while Marc Murphy’s 24 touches came at 71%, and nine of those possessions came in the last quarter as Carlton really got a run on.

The player I want to highlight more than these two, though, is one who cops a fair bit of flak from Blues supporters, in the form of Jack Silvagni. He was arguably Carlton’s best player in the first half, and it was a lovely kick from him to Kreuzer for the Fisher goal. He also kicked two important, opportunistic goals in the third to keep Carlton in the contest, and it was great body work to outmark Fritsch and kick the first goal of the last to give Carlton some hope. He was in the votes last week for his second half job on Nat Fyfe, and could easily have been in the votes again today if Carlton got over the line.

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First Quarter Blues 

Heading into this game, Carlton had kicked just 2.7 to 13.7 in first quarters under caretaker coach David Teague. Interestingly enough, for the stat nerds out there, a group with whom I firmly identify, those two goals both came against the Bulldogs, the one game the Blues had lost since sacking Brendon Bolton. It should have come as no surprise, then, that the Dees got off to the hot start, kicking 3.4 from their first ten inside 50’s. In fact, Carlton managed just two of the game’s first 15 inside 50’s, and they were probably lucky that Melbourne didn’t capitalise on their forward half dominance.

The Blues just couldn’t get their hands on the ball early. Despite essentially breaking even in the contested possessions and clearances, being -2 and -1 in those stats respectively in the first quarter, they were smashed in the uncontested possessions, with Melbourne winning that count by 42. Paddy Dow’s bounced kick to McGovern on the lead was pretty much symptomatic of their issues as they time and time again failed to hit targets all over the ground. A horrible turnover by Michael Gibbons on the wing ended up in a Weideman mark and behind, while three times in a row they turned the ball over coming out of defensive 50, which ended up with Tom McDonald’s second goal, and another forward half turnover resulted in his third.

When Carlton got their run going forward of centre, they actually looked really good. After being smashed early on, they managed to get back into the game in the second half of the first quarter, managing 2.4, with the two goals coming from well taken set shots by Paddy Dow and Levi Casboult. Their forward line struggled through the first three quarters though, and that was best exemplified by the woefully out of form McGovern. Carlton didn’t give up everything to get him, but they probably paid overs, and with Curnow and McKay out today, they really needed a big day from him. They didn’t get it, though, as he managed just five touches for the whole day, with three of those coming from free kicks, combined with no major scoreboard impact, just one effective touch and, most damningly, zero marks. He showed glimpses at Adelaide, but his season thus far has been really disappointing.

At the other end of the ground, it was one of the most disappointing games we’ve seen from Liam Jones in recent times. He does sometimes get beaten, but to be beaten by a player like Tom McDonald, who had managed just 12 goals in 14 games before Sunday, and to be beaten to the extent he was, would be a big worry for Carlton fans. It hurt that Casboult had to play forward with the aforementioned talls out, but even still, to let McDonald kick 6.2 in just three quarters of footy is simply not good enough, while his five touches came at 40% efficiency, giving away three free kicks.


The Season From Hell 

Many, myself included, tipped Melbourne to go a few better than they did last year, and win the club’s first flag in 55 years. That will not eventuate in 2019, with a combination of injuries, and horrendously poor form seeing them firmly entrenched in the bottom 4 after 14 games. They took a while to work themselves into this game too, with Tom McDonald shanking his first shot on goal out on the full, Alex Neal-Bullen missing Jordan Lewis in space inside forward 50 by a good twenty metres, Jayden Hunt playing on instead of trying to take the set shot and Christian Salem missing a gettable set shot from 40 out. Melbourne should absolutely have been further ahead than they were at quarter time, and as we’ve seen happen throughout this season, it almost came back to bite them later on.

Bayley Fritsch was absolutely everywhere in the first quarter before a second quarter knee injury hampered him a little. His 13 touches in the first quarter were critical for his side though, finishing the afternoon with an equal career high 26 touches, pulling in a game high 12 marks and gaining a team high 471 metres. His ability to work hard on the outside is maybe a little underrated outside of the four walls at Melbourne, but it looked like Teague attempted to make him a little more accountable after half time, and it did bring Carlton back into the game.

It would be remiss of me to write this section of the article without giving Tom McDonald adequate praise. While some would call his goals relatively cheap, others would call them opportunistic, and he was clearly the most influential player on the ground before going off injured at three quarter time, joining Marty Hore and Harrison Petty on the pine. His six goals came from 20 touches, and it almost certainly would have been a bigger bag if he had have played in the last quarter, while he also raked in nine marks, five of which came inside forward 50. He was involved in 11 scores total, including two direct goal assists, as the ball simply gravitated to him forward of centre. It would definitely be a pleasing sight for Melbourne fans that he was back to his 2018 form, and if he can play like that every week next year, there’s no reason why they can’t climb back up the ladder.

If Melbourne were wasteful in the first quarter, then they were even worse in the second. Their 18 inside 50’s resulted in a return of 3.7, with one out on the full, highlighting that they were efficient but inaccurate when going forward. Carlton, conversely, managed three goals straight from 11 inside 50’s to stay in touch, despite Melbourne’s general dominance around the ground. They were a lot better in the third though, as they managed to hit targets a lot more often and looked far more intent on following up even when they did make mistakes. They managed 7.1 from 12 inside 50’s, having them 30 points ahead at three quarter time despite Carlton kicking 5.2 from 10 inside 50’s.

Though they were genuinely run over in the last quarter, it was the class of a few players who came to the fore to ensure they weren’t beaten and restored some pride. Clayton Oliver may not have had a season as good as he did last year, and he was relatively quiet for the first three quarters of this game, but 10 of his 26 touches came in the last quarter, including the assist for the game winning goal to Jayden Hunt, intercepting a Kade Simpson kick and hitting up the small forward on the lead. He also had a game high 10 clearances, laid 11 tackles and had nine score involvements as he turned in one of his best performances of the season. Meanwhile, Jayden Hunt and Christian Petracca had opportunistic days forward of centre, kicking six goals and having 16 score involvements between them from 29 touches.


A Dead Rubber Comes Alive

It’s probably reasonable to suggest there wasn’t a heap of interest heading into this one. Both sides are firmly entrenched in the bottom 4, and in the notoriously out of the way early Sunday timeslot, you wouldn’t have expected either of a decent crowd or a close finish. We got both of those in this one though, with just over 55000 people turning up to watch one of the best last quarters we’ve seen all year. It has been a good weekend for final quarter finishes, with Hawthorn, Essendon and the Bulldogs all getting over the line largely thanks to their efforts in the last, and Carlton almost added their name to that list.

Staring down a five goal deficit, as t
hey have done every week under David Teague, the Blues got a run on in the last quarter, again as they have done every week under Teague. It took about six minutes for Jack Silvagni to nail the first of the last, outmarking Fritsch, before a fairly dumb 50 metre penalty given away by Sam Frost gifted Lochie O’Brien a goal from the square to get the score back within three goals. It was the next goal which was the most unbelievable though, with mature age rookie Michael Gibbons perfectly executing an outside of the boot set shot to take the margin down to 11 points and send Blues fans into raptures.

After a free kick to Will Setterfield in front of goals brought the margin, unbelievably, back within a kick, it was Melbourne’s turn to try and end Carlton’s run, wasting an absolutely prime opportunity, with Sam Weideman fumbling a Hunt handball that ultimately ended up with James Harmes missing from the top of the square. It was admittedly average work from the Melbourne forwards, but excellent pressure from the defenders to ensure the goal, which would have iced the game almost, didn’t go through. An off the ball Setterfield free brought scores back to level, and a Kennedy behind gave Carlton the lead against all the odds. I’m not sure what Teague is putting in the Gatorade, but it seems like teams aren’t safe against this new Carlton lineup unless they get beyond 40 points up, having fought back to take the lead in all four games under him. While it was, in the end, the cooler, more experienced heads which prevailed in this one, Blues players and supporters can walk away from this one with their heads held high, as the transition from a coach focused on endless development to a caretaker coach who has instilled a greater focus on results, as well as a less regimented game plan, continues to pay off.

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Umps Draw Fan’s Ire, And Not For The First Time 

I don’t, as a general rule, like to comment on umpiring in these match reviews. Firstly, no one wants to come and read a review like this and hear how their team only won because of the umpires’ assistance, and secondly although it may not always look that way no umpire intentionally goes one way or the other to win a game for a side. The umpiring in this game, however, was abysmally bad at times, and though both teams benefitted, Melbourne probably had the rub of the green, even if Carlton were helped more than a little in the last quarter.

Pinging Walsh for holding the ball in the second quarter on the back flank was exactly why fans have issues with the interpretations of the men in green. The Rising Star favourite had no prior opportunity whatsoever, had one arm pinned to his body by an admittedly good tackle, and yet gave away the free kick, in a decision that was truly mind boggling. The free kick to McDonald on 50 to open the third was frankly disgusting, and I truly hope we don’t see decisions like that start to creep into the game. Liam Jones did nothing wrong apart from dropping the mark, as he read the ball better, uses his knee to get the launch and got both hands to the ball. It ultimately resulted in a goal to the Demon in what was a truly shocking call. There were other missed calls, like paying a free to Petracca despite him dropping the ball in the tackle, which ultimately led to Hunt’s goal, a 25 metre run without a bounce from Oliver to set up McDonald’s sixth goal, and a non-paid free for front on contact to Setterfield in the third quarter which almost could have led to a reversal of the result. It would be unfair to suggest that Carlton were completely snubbed by the umpires, but as a neutral supporter Melbourne’s advantage was certainly noticeable.


Concluding Thoughts 

What a game! This one seriously had the lot, with Melbourne kicking away through the first three quarters, including a big bag from Tom McDonald, some exceptional midfield displays, and a trademark huge Carlton comeback, seemingly out of nowhere. The Blues have looked so much better under David Teague that it’s almost beyond the point of humour, playing a much more open and free game style, and their young players seem to relish the ability to just play footy. They will look to take the challenge up to the also-defeated Swans at the SCG, a side whom they challenged at Marvel earlier this year in Round 3.

Meanwhile, the Demons managed to win this one against the odds in the end. Heading into this game you’d have expected the loss of Gawn to have a big impact on the game, and while the Dees were certainly not at their best, Braydon Preuss was certainly handy in the ruck. Their September dreams are over, though, and next week face an interesting challenge in the form of the resurgent Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium, who harbour their own September aspirations, in what should be a fascinating match up.

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