CARLTON, somehow, remains with a faint hope of playing in the finals.
As inexplicable as that may seem following the Blues' disastrous loss to bottom-placed North Melbourne last week, they flipped the script with a surprise belting of St Kilda on Friday night which, in one fell swoop, rendered the Saints' finals chances all but over and resuscitated their own.
With their club delivering its football review and their coach David Teague under immense pressure, the Blues comfortably accounted for the Saints at a crowd-less Marvel Stadium, winning by 31 points. The 18.4 (112) to 12.9 (81) win lifted the Blues into 10th position and saw them join the Saints on eight wins, although further dented St Kilda's percentage.
SAINTS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
As it has been all year, Carlton was led by Sam Walsh and Harry McKay. Walsh furthered his Brownlow Medal stocks with three goals from 26 disposals in a typically classy, hard-working display while Harry McKay can have his name imprinted on the Coleman Medal after kicking five goals.
But this time, it was not just that duo who stepped up for the Blues. It was across the board: Jack Silvagni (25 disposals, one goal) was terrific and had to play as a fill-in ruckman, Paddy Dow (22) continued his good form and Patrick Cripps (26) was busy.
It was attitude as much as personnel. Last week, Carlton recorded 45 tackles against the Kangaroos in a deplorable effort. Against the Saints, they had registered 51 in the first half and finished with 80 (to St Kilda's 63).
St Kilda's bid for a late run at the top-eight after its ugly start to the season was ended in the flat performancea. Max King, who booted four goals after six last round, and Jack Steele (36 disposals and 13 tackles) were among few winners.
St Kilda's three first-quarter goals came via King, who was causing headaches for Carlton defender Jacob Weitering. But the Blues had more avenues to goal, with McKay chipping in for two and their spread helping them to a 12-point lead at the opening change.
After kicking the last three goals of the first quarter, the Blues continued to have their game on their terms with a five-goal-to-two second term. The contributors were everywhere for Carlton: Walsh booted his second with a clever checkside, Matt Kennedy waltzed into an open goalsquare, McKay chipped in with two of his majors and even defender Tom Williamson drifted forward to hit the scoreboard.
By the main break the Blues had jumped to a 28-point lead and it was on the back of a defensive lift that clearly was a focus for Teague's side. St Kilda had enough of the ball through the midfield but couldn't capitalise on Rowan Marshall's ruck dominance and were turned around by a vibrant Blues outfit.
Any hopes of a second-half comeback were quickly extinguished as McKay booted his fifth early in the third term, with St Kilda also losing Dougal Howard to a hamstring injury. And when Walsh spotted up Dow, who converted his shot, the Blues had the game wrapped up minutes into the second half.
Welcome back, Charlie
Charlie Curnow had to wait until the 29-minute mark of the first term to get his hands on the ball in his first game in more than two years, but his first disposal was a clear reminder of his phenomenal ability. After a Saints turnover in defence, Curnow swooped from outside 50 and struck his kick perfectly for a long goal off one step. The talented forward, who has endured a horror run of knee injuries, was immediately mobbed by teammates after the spectacular finish. Curnow finished with eight disposals and got through unscathed in a promising showing.
Honey shows sweet signs
In his third game of his career Carlton youngster Josh Honey was an exciting addition to the Blues' side. The speedy and athletic midfielder made his debut last season and played in round 10 this year but was brought back into the Blues' line-up and played a valuable role for Carlton, gathering 13 disposals and kicking the first goal of his career in the third term – after setting one up earlier in the game for Kennedy. He backed up with another goal late and showed he should play out the season for the Blues.
Dow's form run continues
Since returning to Carlton's side in round 12, Paddy Dow has been on the improve with more and more midfield time. Last week he was among the Blues' best with a career-high 24 disposals, and he backed that up with an impressive game against the Saints with 22 disposals and four clearances. He also pushed forward to kick a goal in what was an exciting display. Over the past six weeks, Dow has averaged 20 disposals and is playing with confidence in the latter stages of his fourth AFL season.
ST KILDA 3.1 5.3 7.7 12.9 (81)
CARLTON 5.1 10.1 15.2 18.4 (112)
St Kilda: King 4, Membrey 3, Sharman 2, Higgins, Jones, Marshall
Carlton: McKay 5, Walsh 3, Honey 2, Williamson 2, Cripps, Curnow, Dow, Kennedy, Silvagni
St Kilda: Steele, King, Jones, Dunstan, Marshall
Carlton: Walsh, McKay, Silvagni, Dow, Kennedy, Cripps
St Kilda: Ryder (Achilles) replaced in selected side by Hunter, Howard (hamstring), Clark (concussion)
Carlton: De Koning (pectoral)
St Kilda: Sharman (replaced Howard in the third quarter)
Carlton: Murphy (replaced De Koning in the third quarter)