Round Nine is upon us, and I’ve been fortunate enough to snag one of the several games of the week that doesn’t appear lopsided on paper. Admittedly, Carlton vs. the Dogs at Avengers Stadium isn’t quite the same calibre as Game 7 of Celtics-76ers or the Champions League semi-final second leg, but I’ll take what I can get. Let us reflect on the game’s events.
Kicking woes kick on: Carlton’s kicking problems from last week are showing no signs of dissipating, with several egregious errors committed that are lucky not to be punished by the opposition. There are out on the fulls, woefully overhit passes, and set shots that would make first-time international viewers believe that our sport is some unhinged version of golf. Message to Harry McKay; it’s not lowest score wins.
Opportunities few and far between: Carlton haven’t been able to find any smooth avenues inside 50, and so they resort to tumbling mongrels forward and hoping that it lands on a Carlton chest. This strategy works surprisingly effectively for what it’s worth. However, I don’t think the rabid mob that is the Carlton fan contingent will be very accepting if Michael Voss outlines it as a clear strategy in his post-match presser.
Perpetual movement: (not a diarrhea joke. That’ll come later in the article). The Dogs have opened the game aggressively, running and playing on at all costs. Their movement chains aren’t always effective, but it’s obviously a strategy designed to surprise Carlton, and for the most part, it appears to work. I’d never claim to be the fittest bloke around but I do do the 1000 Steps a few times a week, and I’m feeling pretty tired already just watching this run-and-gun gameplan.
Team team team: Anyone who’s seen the IT Crowd would be familiar with Denholm Reynhom’s frenzied hatred of all of the teams under his supervision that fail to work as a team, so there’s no doubt he’d be happy to take the Western Bulldogs under his wing. The Dogs are contributing fantastically evenly across the board, with no one really standing out, except for maybe Ed Richards, but he usually stands out anyway thanks to the fact he looks like he’s lost a bet and had a bottle of chilli sauce poured on his head.
Territory: Carlton are clearly winning the territory battle and have set up a defensive wall behind the ball, but they really struggle to capitalise on the dominance, kicking a solitary goal for the quarter, and the half. It’s like those games of FIFA when you have three dozen shots, with fifteen on target, but no score, and your opponent has one cross into the box that gets deflected into your own net by your supposedly 90-rated CB. No, I’m not bitter at all. What would make you think that?
At least the defenders are playing: The Blues defenders are putting in a hell of a shift. Lewis Young and Jacob Weitering look secure and unruffled when under pressure, and both players intercept with ease and launch several attacks for their own team. I’m sure that these attacks are set in motion with a view to having a scoreboard impact akin to a ballistic missile, but the Carlton forward line ensures that they more closely resemble a balloon when you inflate it and then let it fly around the room making a fart noise.
Use the space: It appears that the Dogs are avid fans of theatre. At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for why they use the space so well. Shepherds are made and avenues for forward movement are opened up. Players dart between pairs of Blues. Releasing handballs are withheld and then executed to perfection. The Dogs only score two goals for the term, mainly due to poor disposal, but upon the drawing of the intermission curtain, I give their performance and three-goal half-time lead a respectable three and a half stars out of five. Hopefully, the second act sees some smoother performances.
A better Scott-dog relationship: Anthony Scott kicks the Dogs’ only two goals for the term and celebrates raucously with his teammates. This redeems the historically dodgy relationship had with dogs by people called Scott. (Robert Falcon Scott reference there. Bit of a long bow, I admit.)
Errant handballs (first half): Yep, I’m splitting the two Blues talking points for this quarter into halves, because they’re as bipolar as it gets. The first half of the quarter sees some absolutely garbage handballing. One comical sequence sees three players handballing in a two square metre area, where one Dogs player is able to apply significant pressure to each player. In other instances, the wrong handball is taken, or a disposal is directed behind the player running past. There’s something in the water in Carlton. It’s contaminated with the pasta starch of Lygon St restaurants or something. There’s no way a team with this list can still be executing football skills this poorly.
Taps to advantage (second half): My favourite one-percenter is the knock-on/tap to a teammate. It might be my basketball background (insert Scott Pendlebury mention). Anyway, the Blues showcase this skill superbly on a couple of occasions, being aware of the impending tackle and directing the ball on to a free man in navy blue. It nets them one goal directly and is part of a slightly messy chain that leads to another, as the Blues emerge from their funk and begin to mount a comeback. Great stuff.
Non-dominant dominance: Tim English doesn’t play with any aggression at all, has a face like he volunteers at the nursing home helping old ladies play bingo, and yet regularly absolutely dominates the stat sheet. In the third term he has quite the impact, winning hit outs, intercepts, tackling, and basically being a giraffe-sized midfielder, but it just… doesn’t feel like that much of an impact. He’s a strange phenomenon and should be studied in a lab.
Rory roars loudest: Rory Lobb has had a trying time so far at the kennel (Being 206cm tall, that’s hardly a surprise. He wouldn’t bloody get in the door), but comes to life in the third, converting two set shots, neither of which could be described as regulation, to give the Dogs a great buffer. As a football fan who likes it when maligned figures succeed, it’s nice to see. As a human being with eyes, I’d probably prefer that that hair graces my screen as little as possible.
Owies, that hurts the Dogs’ hearts: Matthew Owies’ value extends beyond his amusing name. He’s been the only dangerous-looking forward for Carlton all day and when, early in the last, he kicks his third to bring his team back within a point, the crowd are in raptures. The Dogs would do well to find some Panadol and quell the man’s influence.
Voss the Boss: Michael Voss’ decision to bring Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow further up the ground pays huge dividends throughout the third and last quarters. The two previously out-of-touch key forwards win contests consistently on the wing and around half-forward and contribute to multiple aggressive forays forward. When Curnow, having moved back into the forward 50 with newfound confidence, takes a strong mark and converts to put the Blues in front for the second time in the fourth quarter, it looks for all money like the Blues will win.
P.S. (Of course, the Blues’ name is a bit of a paradox. In a way, no matter the result of Carlton’s games, the Blues end up winning. Might write a piece on it later. I can envision it being a worthy contribution to the great philosophical works.)
They go when it’s their turn: There is only one sporting team I can think of off the top of my head that showed better awareness of when to go than the Dogs during the second half of this fourth quarter, and that’s the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup Final (see, told you). I can genuinely think of about fourteen Dogs players who had a pivotal moment that ended up turning the result their way, and the Marcus Bontempelli tackle on Adam Cerra as he loaded up an inside 50 kick is just about the pick of the lot. It’s the type of performance that threatens to squash the ‘flat-track’ moniker often thrown at the Dogs. How dare they attempt to remove that low-hanging fruit from the reach of the rest of us.
Arthur Jones: Despite having the misfortune of sharing a name with an American politician who has some… rather questionable views, Arthur Jones is pretty good in the final term. He kicks a sensational goal to put his team in front that will result in commentators forthwith referring to him as ‘mercurial,’ roves a contest and gives off to Bailey Smith to put the Dogs back in front, and generally provides a very lively presence forward of centre. It’s the sort of performance that elicits the usual cliches. ‘Coming-of-age,’ ‘he feels like he belongs now,’ and so on ad nauseam. Personally, I think it was a performance that took the training wheels off and that he’ll take a lot of confidence from it.
When the final curtain falls, the Bulldogs are in possession of the chocolates, 11.13.79-8.11.59. Although said chocolates, due to the quality of much of the game, are not the top-tier ones that you secretly hope to pick out of the Favourites box, the Dogs won’t care. They’ll go home and enjoy their Moros, Dairy Milk bars and Turkish Delights, whilst the Blues may have to be content with the old packets of Mi-Goreng at the back of the pantry.