BOY, did Carlton need that.
After successive defeats and amid mounting pressure on the club, Saturday's clash with Hawthorn had 'danger game' written all over it. But a scrappy 23-point victory was just the tonic to allay fears that a disappointing start to the year could soon spiral out of control.
BLUES v HAWKS Full match coverage and stats
The Blues weren't necessarily convincing in their 13.8 (86) to 9.9 (63) win at the MCG, squandering territorial dominance and consistently allowing the Hawks passages back into the contest. But the four points mattered more than the dreaded alternative.
Sam Walsh provided the class in a game that, in truth, otherwise lacked it. The tireless Carlton midfielder won 30 disposals, laid six tackles and kicked an exceptional goal to comfortably emerge as the contest's best player.
A rejuvenated Zac Williams (26 disposals, one goal) returned to half-back and also found form, while Adam Saad (26 disposals, eight marks) provided the ideal one-two punch in a suddenly speedy Blues backline.
The Hawks, to their credit, were never out of the game. Tom Mitchell (44 disposals, eight clearances) was prolific, while James Worpel (24 disposals, seven clearances) also performed strongly.
But a side clearly in a redevelopment phase, for all of its fight, ran out of puff in the latter stages as the Blues kept their distant finals dream alive to improve to a 4-5 record on the season.
For long periods in the game's early stages, Carlton had the ball camped inside Hawthorn's half. But their control came without potency. The Blues had doubled their opposition's inside-50 count to quarter-time, but had just a 10-point lead to show for it.
Even when the scoreboard began to reflect the pattern of the play, with Walsh's long bomb from beyond 50m spurring Carlton to three straight goals at one stage in the second term, Hawthorn instantly hit back.
A quickfire double from Luke Breust had the margin to within single digits again, before Dan Howe's flukish snap dribbled through as the half-time siren sounded to whittle the deficit to just three points by the main break.
But just when it seemed as though the Blues had shot themselves in the foot, the Hawks did likewise. Jacob Koschitzke's inexplicable decision to play-on from the goal line, only to be tackled by Nic Newman, gave Carlton life on the eve of three-quarter time.
Three consecutive Blues goals before the final change created a buffer too big for the Hawks to drag back. Breust managed to cut the deficit slightly with his third, before Harry McKay finished an uncharacteristically quiet game by sealing the deal with a long-range effort.
Crazy snap keeps Hawks going
Howe did Daniel do that? The Hawthorn midfielder, who was a late inclusion for the hobbled Liam Shiels on the eve of the match, kept the Hawks alive with his remarkable snap as the half-time siren sounded. Howe's kick, with just a second on the clock, was seemingly looking for a deep target. However, the siren sounded, his effort from beyond 50m floated over the heads of teammates and opponents alike, took a miraculous bounce over Jacob Weitering, then avoided the defender's desperate lunge on the goal line to trickle through. It gave Hawthorn a spring in its steps heading into the long break, with the Hawks having reduced a 23-point deficit to just three within an instant.
Kosi has his dreaded Riewoldt moment
Jacob Koschitzke's cousin, Justin, played in the 2010 Grand Final replay when Nick Riewoldt was infamously chased down on the goal line by Heath Shaw. On Saturday, Koschitzke had his own moment to forget. Having marked strongly on the goal line from Luke Breust's errant shot, the young key forward went to immediately play on and kick the most routine of goals. The only problem was that Carlton defender Nic Newman was right behind him, realising the state of play and driving Koschitzke into the turf. The simplest of shots would have put Hawthorn in front. Instead, Carlton kicked the next three goals to open a 19-point lead by three-quarter time.
Spring-heeled youngster gives Blues plenty of pep
Carlton and Hawthorn showcased the future of their ruck divisions on Saturday, with the Hawks' 211cm debutant Ned Reeves coming up against the Blues' talented 21-year-old big man Tom De Koning. It was the Carlton kid who perhaps shaded the battle, with De Koning demonstrating his elite athleticism and high-marking ability in an exciting performance. The 203cm ruck-forward marked strongly, competed well in the ruck and drifted forward to provide an option in attack. De Koning finished with one goal from 14 disposals and 13 hitouts, with Reeves ending the match with 13 disposals and 21 hitouts.
CARLTON 4.1 8.3 12.4 13.8 (86)
HAWTHORN 2.3 7.6 8.9 9.9 (63)
Carlton: Owies 2, Betts 2, McKay 2, Silvagni, De Koning, Williams, Walsh, Pittonet, Gibbons, Murphy
Hawthorn: Breust 3, Morrison 2, Koschitzke, Lewis, Howe, Moore
Carlton: Walsh, Docherty, Williams, Saad, Cripps, Pittonet
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Worpel, Scrimshaw, Wingard, Breust, Hartigan
Hawthorn: Shiels (neck) replaced in selected side by Howe
Carlton: Honey (unused)
Hawthorn: Morris (unused)
Crowd: 45,741 at the MCG