CARLTON'S midfield dominance against the rising Gold Coast Suns has set up a third straight win which has strengthened the Blues' finals hopes.
Despite a host of missed opportunities up forward, the Blues held their nerve and then kicked away late for a 16.24 (120) to 11.11 (77) victory in front of 19,640 fans at Metricon Stadium.
Carlton won the clearances 41 to 29 and Ed Kurnow played well to restrict the damage of Gary Ablett in his much-hyped 248th senior game.
Five talking points: Gold Coast v Carlton
Ablett was still among the Coast's best, finishing with an equal game-high 32 disposals but was nowhere near as influential as last week in his side's seven-point upset of Collingwood.
Heath Scotland also ended with 32 touches while Kade Simpson, Brock McLean and Marc Murphy also starred for the visitors.
Carlton coach Mick Malthouse was satisfied with the win but saw plenty of room for improvement.
"It was effective to win, but far from our best footy," he said.
"I reckon we led most quarters only to have self satisfaction and then the tail went up of the opposition and they bounced back.
"You can't allow yourself the luxury of thinking sides don't get back in games.
The Blues jumped to a 26-point lead midway through the opening term but couldn't shake the Suns until early in the final quarter when Lachie Henderson kicked two quick goals to finish with four for the match.
Carlton made it hard for themselves with inaccuracy in front of goal, particularly in the third term when they could have buried the Suns but kicked 2.9 for the quarter.
"They jumped us early but I thought after that first 10 to 15 minutes we got our hunger or thirst to win that contested footy. I certainly couldn't fault our boys' effort," he said.
"They [Carlton] are a mature group and work well together. We weren't able to get the space we were afforded last week. I think it's a great lesson for our blokes."
Looking for their second big scalp in a week, the Suns were hurt by a knee injury to ruckman Tom Nicholls which saw him subbed out just after half time when only two goals separated the sides.
In a lop-sided ruck contest, Matthew Kreuzer was a standout for the Blues with 41 hit-outs and five clearances, effectively extinguishing the Suns' finals pipe dream.
Gold Coast were forced to start without in-form midfielder Dion Prestia (knee) and key defender Rory Thompson (ankle).
Carlton kicked the first four goals of the match before Charlie Dixon stood up for the hosts who bounced back with three straight majors.
In only his second match since round six, Dixon continued to be a thorn in the Blues' side up forward but he was forced to share ruck duties with Sam Day in the second half after Nicholls (knee) limped off.
Mitch Robinson and Gary Ablett come to blows late in the game. Robinson was paid a free kick for this clash. Picture: AFL Media.
CARLTON 4.6 8.12 10.19 16.24 (120)
GOLD COAST 3.4 7.7 9.8 11.11 (77)
Carlton: Henderson 4, Betts 3, Yarran 2, Armfield 2, McLean 2, Garlett, Watson, Judd
Gold Coast: Day 2, Hall 2, Dixon 2, Bennell, Brown, Stanley, Shaw, Ablett
Carlton: Kreuzer, McLean, Judd, Robinson, Curnow, Henderson, Scotland
Gold Coast: Dixon, Ablett, Shaw, O'Meara, Brown
Carlton: Bootsma (ill) replaced in selected side by Cachia;
Gold Coast: Prestia (hamstring) replaced in selected side by Gillbee; Thompson (ankle) replaced in selected side by Sumner; Nicholls (knee)
Carlton: Jaryd Cachia replaced Kane Lucas in the third quarter
Gold Coast: Jacob Gillbee replaced Tom Nicholls (knee) in the third quarter
Umpires: McBurney, Farmer, Pannell
Official crowd: 19,460 at Metricon Stadium