A BLISTERING first-half display inspired by new skipper Max Gawn has helped Melbourne withhold a dramatic late Carlton fightback at Marvel Stadium, as a new-look Demons outfit restarted their season with a desperate victory on Saturday afternoon.
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The Blues had fought from 42 points down to level the scores in a stunning conclusion to the clash, but Simon Goodwin's side avoided disaster thanks to a late Bayley Fritsch behind to record an 8.6 (54) to 7.11 (53) win.
Gawn (21 disposals, 34 hitouts) was simply sublime in the one-point victory, helping Melbourne establish its significant early advantage with his work in the ruck before taking a crucial late contested mark to seal a seesawing but satisfying win.
Clayton Oliver (28 disposals, five tackles) and Christian Petracca (24 disposals, five clearances) were also terrific, as the Demons counted their blessings and a crucial four points come the salvation of the final siren.
The game had appeared as good as done at quarter-time, as Melbourne piled on five unanswered goals to begin the match. At the other end, it also held Carlton scoreless for the entirety of the opening term to claim a commanding 32-point lead at the first break.
Gawn, Petracca and Oliver had their fingerprints all over the first quarter onslaught, dominating out of the centre as Carlton's afternoon went to bad to worse following a gruesome knee injury sustained by defender Nic Newman.
Melbourne's dominance seemed destined to continue after that, adding two more to extend their advantage to as much as 42 points midway through the second quarter before Carlton finally produced a response with back-to-back goals to end the first half.
The Blues continued to storm home with a dramatic comeback in the second half, establishing a foothold in the match to gradually reduce the margin and eventually draw level within the final three minutes of the game.
But the blushes of the Demons were spared when Fritsch steered through a behind from close-range to secure the thrilling one-point win.
New do, but it's the same Max
The controversial haircut was gone, but the trademark dominance in the ruck wasn't as Melbourne's new skipper Max Gawn grabbed hold of Saturday's contest. Rucking against Carlton deputy Marc Pittonet, the three-time All-Australian was simply stunning in the first half to help his side build its significant early lead. Gawn gave Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca silver service with his aerial work, winning nine disposals and helping himself to two score assists in the opening term alone. His influence over the game was emphatic, leaving Carlton's midfield with no answers as Melbourne won 10 of the game's first 15 clearances to kick the game's first seven goals without response. His impact was crucial.
A tale of two halves for the Blues
Carlton went from flawed, to fantastic. Having gone nearly 50 minutes without a goal to start the match, the Blues then kicked seven of the game's final eight majors to eventually draw level. However, the slow start was costly and would ultimately prove the difference. Scoreless in the first quarter, the Blues managed just five inside 50s and laid only eight tackles for the entire opening term. Meanwhile, three players (Mitch McGovern, Eddie Betts and Darcy Lang) didn't have a single touch for the quarter. Bizarrely, McGovern then led the charge after that. He finished with seven grabs and a goal, as the tables somehow turned. Limping from the field after a brave fightback that fell just short, Carlton could be forgiven for having flashbacks to round one's loss to Richmond. David Teague will undoubtedly now need to sort out the slow starts.
The new Dees provide the spark
There was a lot to like from Melbourne's recruits on Saturday. Despite missing the lively Kysaiah Pickett due to a suspension following a COVID-19 breach, fellow recent draftees Luke Jackson and Trent Rivers provided plenty. Jackson was a constant threat forward of centre and demonstrated his athletic leap on the rare occasions he was pushed into the ruck, while Rivers produced rebound and drive from half-back. Ed Langdon was a constant overlapping option on the wing, Adam Tomlinson was busy through the midfield, while Harley Bennell showcased his class in glimpses as he eased back into action. The Demons will hope those new faces can continue to lift their form this season.
CARLTON 0.0 2.5 4.6 7.11 (53)
MELBOURNE 5.2 7.4 8.5 8.6 (54)
Carlton: Cuningham, Lang, Casboult, McGovern, Gibbons, Betts, Cripps
Melbourne: Hunt 3, Neal-Bullen 2, Petracca 2, Fritsch
Carlton: Murphy, Docherty, Weitering, Petrevski-Seton, McGovern, Curnow
Melbourne: Gawn, Petracca, Oliver, Salem, Langdon, Viney
Carlton: Newman (knee)