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Blues, Dons fight out an epic MCG draw

Highlights: Carlton v Essendon The Blues and Bombers clash in round 23
Heath Hocking of the Bombers in action during the 2014 AFL Round 23 match between the Carlton Blues and the Essendon Bombers at the MCG, Melbourne on August 30, 2014. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
Heath Hocking gets a kick away as Bryce Gibbs watches on during the nail-biting draw at the MCG
IT'S TAKEN nearly an entire season but the first draw of 2014 has been recorded with Carlton and Essendon remaining locked on 90 points each after Saturday's clash at the MCG.

It was a result that ensured the Bombers secured seventh spot, and they will face North Melbourne in an elimination final at the MCG next week.

Five talking points: Carlton v Essendon
 
In a strange game where both sides led by more than four goals at stages, the Blues had a chance to steal the match from the finals-bound Bombers in the final minute.
 
Bryce Gibbs marked outside 50 with 53 seconds left after Irishman Zach Tuohy levelled the scores with a point shortly before.

WATCH the dramatic last two minutes
 

Gibbs' kick fell short and the ball remained in the Blues' attacking 50 as the clock wound down with the scores dead level at 90 points apiece.
 
It was the sixth draw between the two teams and the third in the last 21 years.

It left Essendon coach Mark Thompson to rue his team's inability to play a full four-quarter game on the eve of September.
 
"It's exciting to be in the finals and we're there so we've got to try and keep it all positive and get them fresh," Thompson said.
 
"We don't want to fill their heads up with negative stuff.
 
"Clearly you would hope they would have a better attitude towards the start of the game and be capable of playing good football, which we know they are.
 
"Everybody in the world knows that we can play good football. I just don't know if we can play for a whole game."
 
Brock McLean had 30 disposals for the Blues and Chris Judd 28, with both players critical in the team's assembly of the 30-point lead they held at quarter time.
 
The recalled Matthew Watson relished a move into attack to kick four goals.
 
Before Saturday, Watson had played two senior games this year and booted two career goals.
 
For the Bombers, Dyson Heppell – wearing a glove on his injured left hand – worked his way into the game. He started at half back and looked as though he would avoid heavy-duty midfield work, but was needed on the ball in the second half and ended with 25 disposals.

Heppell was also important in keeping the Bombers in the game when the Blues came at them in the final term.
 
Jobe Watson was also significant with 20 disposals and seven clearances.

Back to the drawing board: Is it time for extra time?
 
The game certainly had its share of momentum shifts. Firstly the Bombers had to chase down a 30-point lead the Blues built in the first quarter, which came largely from a stunning midfield display by Judd and McLean.
 
Then the Blues were made to respond when the Bombers reacted to a quarter-time spray from coach Mark Thompson - one the coach said later was his biggest of the year - and built a lead that peaked at 27 points early in the third quarter.
 
Two goals from Troy Menzel and singles from Kane Lucas, Chris Yarran and McLean had the Blues within a point early in the fourth quarter.
 
Unlikely goal-kickers Cameron Wood and Watson chipped in with two – the second of which saw the Blues in front – before the Bombers pushed again and substitute Martin Gleeson restored a one-point lead with a goal with eight minutes left.
 
The Blues were playing for pride after their 103-point loss to Port Adelaide last Friday night and would have restored some of that with their courageous showing.
 
But the Bombers will be left to rue what could have been, given the importance of winning momentum when it comes to September. 

Carlton coach Mick Malthouse said he "hated" the emotion that came with a drawn result but was content with how his players hung in there. 
 
"I'm pleased we fought back when the game could have been absolutely taken from our grasp [with] no comeback whatsoever in the second and early in the third quarter," Malthouse said.
 
"I am buoyed by the players' resolve."
 
As expected, the Blues were without captain Marc Murphy, who was a late withdrawal before the match after suffering concussion last week against Port Adelaide.
 
The Bombers lost David Myers before the bounce with illness.
 
The late inclusions were Patrick Cripps, who came on as substitute for the fourth quarter, and Orazio Fantasia for the Dons.

Michael Hibberd and Matthew Watson react to the draw on the final siren. Picture: AFL Media


CARLTON      6.3    7.4    11.4    14.6 (90)
ESSENDON   1.3    9.6    11.11   13.12 (90)

GOALS
Carlton: Watson 4, Yarran 2, Menzel 2, Armfield, Bell, Waite, Lucas, McLean, Wood
Essendon: Daniher 2, Watson 2, Ryder 2, Ambrose, Merrett, Winderlich, Stanton, Chapman, Goddard, Gleeson
 
BEST
Carlton: Judd, Watson, McLean, Docherty, Gibbs, Yarran,
Essendon: Watson, Hibberd, Daniher, Ryder, Stanton, Heppell
 
INJURIES
Carlton: Nil
Essendon: Nil
 
SUBSTITUTES
Carlton: Patrick Cripps replaced Dennis Armfield in the fourth quarter
Essendon: Martin Gleeson replaced Orazio Fantasia at three-quarter time
 
Reports: Nil
 
Umpires: Dalgleish, Wenn, O'Gorman
 
Official crowd: 56,658 at the MCG