THE PANIC button was about to sound at Carlton.
Trailing Essendon by 21 points midway through the second quarter of Sunday's clash between the fierce rivals, the Blues were staring down a 2-5 start to their season with their finals hopes getting more faint by the minute.
BOMBERS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
Enter Adam Saad. With his every disposal relentlessly booed, the Bomber-turned-Blue ignited his new club's charge with a critical period of play that brought the Blues back into the game. When Carlton reviews its 16-point win this week, it will doubtless win plaudits from coach David Teague.
The Blues' exciting 19.9 (123) to 16.11 (107) win over a youth-driven Bombers' line-up is unlikely to see them rocket into top-four conversations. But their come-from-behind victory, sealed by a left-foot snap from fellow recruit Lachie Fogarty halfway through the last quarter, will relieve the immense pressure facing the club had the result been flipped.
And it looked like heading that way as the Bombers jumped out of the blocks with an exhilarating first term. The high-scoring end-to-end clash was up for grabs when Jake Stringer booted the opening goal of the final term to put Essendon within four points, but Carlton's next four goals sealed their third win of the season and should restore some confidence to a shaky start to 2021.
Saad (21 disposals) had impact with his touches – Essendon should have known better than anyone his ability to damage off half-back and spent more time trying to limit him – but Sam Walsh was irrepressible, with the emerging superstar gathering 33 disposals and eight clearances as Carlton got on top in the midfield.
Patrick Cripps (24, one goal) grew into the game as did Ed Curnow (26), who also helped shut down Zach Merrett in the second half, while Harry McKay kicked four goals. Following his best-on-ground performance against Essendon last season, David Cuningham was also important with 25 disposals and two goals.
But the win could come at a cost, with forward Mitch McGovern limping from the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the final minutes.
Essendon, largely outplayed after quarter-time, wouldn't have lost many fans as it regenerates its list on the run as a number of its youngsters impressed. But they will have hoped for more after slamming on six goals in the first quarter. The Bombers were slick out of the centre early and Carlton couldn't handle Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, whose three opening-term goals saw them jump to a 14-point lead.
When Harrison Jones marked strongly and kicked his second goal midway through the second quarter the Bombers had extended their lead to 20 points, but Carlton ground their way back into the contest.
A brutal Luke Parks tackle stopped McDonald-Tipungwuti in his tracks near goal and set up a goal for Eddie Betts at the other end before Curnow slotted a flying shot to get the Blues back within two points at half-time.
Carlton looked set to run away with the game when the Blues stormed through three of the first four goals of the third quarter to take a 16-point advantage but again the Bombers responded, with McDonald-Tipungwuti's toe-poke helping Essendon regain the lead. But the Blues again went full throttle, booting three of the next four for the term to head into the final break up by 11 points.
The shootout continued – another nine goals were kicked in the final term – but in a game of firepower, Carlton had just a little too much weaponry.
Saad's big say
Adam Saad's first possession in the opening minute of the game was met with resounding boos from Essendon fans and they continued with every touch the Carlton recruit picked up in his first game against his former side. Saad would have expected that and found a way to silence them later in the first quarter when he pushed forward to kick a long goal from outside-50. Saad, who was matched up with the red-hot Archie Perkins early in the game, was involved in plenty of Carlton's attacking plays and had six score involvements in the half. He continued to influence with his line-breaking run and kicking.
Betts' big response
Questions had fairly started to be asked of Eddie Betts' spot in Carlton's side after two goalless games and only two majors from four appearances this season. But one of the great small forwards of all time proved that, when on song, he still has a role to play to spark the Blues. Betts had some electric moments against the Bombers, finishing with three goals from 13 disposals. The 34-year-old, in his second year back at the Blues, was a threat throughout, proving too quick for the Bombers' defenders. His set shot from a tight angle in the third quarter was a big moment in the Blues' win.
Bombers' department of youth impresses
Essendon blooded its sixth debutant of the season with ruckman Nick Bryan and the young big man impressed in his first AFL game. The second-year Bomber had 19 hitouts but also caught the eye with 12 disposals around the ground. He wasn't the only fresh-faced Bomber to impress, with Archie Perkins playing his best AFL game to date with 18 disposals and six marks. The ultra-exciting Perkins had nine touches in a frantic first quarter and had some key moments in tight. Harrison Jones was another one of Ben Rutten's baby Bombers to piece together a career-best game, kicking three goals and taking five contested marks.
ESSENDON 6.4 8.7 12.8 16.11 (107)
CARLTON 4.2 8.5 14.7 19.9 (123)
Essendon: Hooker 5, McDonald-Tipungwuti 4, Jones 3, Stringer 3, Smith
Carlton: McKay 4, Betts 3, Owies 3, Cuningham 2, Fogarty 2, Cripps, Curnow, McGovern, Saad, Walsh
Essendon: McGrath, Hooker, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer, Perkins
Carlton: Walsh, Saad, Curnow, Cuningham, Cripps, Weitering
Essendon: Cox (shoulder)
Carlton: Dow (eye), McGovern (hamstring)
Essendon: Zaharakis (unused)
Carlton: Petrevski-Seton (replaced Dow in the second quarter)
57,447 at the MCG