CARLTON coach Brendon Bolton has praised the leadership of stars Bryce Gibbs and Patrick Cripps, conceding the pair has had to shoulder a heavy load in the midfield this season.
Gibbs (33 disposals) and Cripps (30) were Carlton's best players in Sunday's win over Melbourne, with their dominant performances in the midfield leading the Blues to their seventh victory of the year.
Between them, the duo was responsible for 20 of Carlton's 41 clearances, while they also registered 12 inside 50s and 18 tackles.
To put that into context, the Demons only had 26 clearances for the day.
In the absence of skipper Marc Murphy, who has missed the second half of the season with an ankle injury, the Blues have become more reliant on Gibbs and Cripps, and the pair hasn't shied away from the responsibility.
"They're carrying a fair load in there no doubt," Bolton said after the 20-point win over Melbourne.
"We want to be a team in time, as we build our list, that has more depth in the midfield, so they've had to shoulder a fair burden. To their credit, they haven't taken a backward step.
"These guys have been in the midfield on their own grinding away and we need to continue to build depth in that area because it's hard to play four quarters every game of the year but they've kept fighting those lads, they've been good leaders."
Cripps and Gibbs are having career-best seasons.
Both are averaging 26.7 disposals per game, while Cripps is the No.1 ranked player in the AFL for clearances, averaging 8.5 per game.
Also recording career-best figures is Ed Curnow, who has stepped up in the middle this season, averaging 25 possessions per game.
The midfielder copped a knock to the knee in the final term against Melbourne and did not play out the game, but Bolton said he had his "fingers crossed" it wasn't too serious.
The Blues have exceeded external expectations this year, winning three more games than 2015, but the coach insists this season was never about the win-loss ratio.
"It always gives you an extra buzz when you win, but we're not going to get too high or low.
"We need to keep to an equilibrium and we aren't going to be defined by just wins and losses, we've got to grow as a footy club.
"We just want to make sure we stay on the journey we've talked about and focus on the things that we think are going to make our club and our team better.
"How quick those sprouts happen was irrelevant this year, so we just take the wins-losses for what they are."
Carlton can take another step and finish its season on a high with a win over Essendon next Saturday at the MCG.