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Dons defy the critics as Blues bumble at home ground

Highlights: Blues v Dons Carlton and Essendon clash in the NAB Challenge
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Brendon Goddard of the Bombers in action during the 2016 NAB Challenge match between the Carlton Blues and the Essendon Bombers at Ikon Park, Melbourne on February 28, 2016. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Brendon Goddard impressed with three goals for Essendon

ESSENDON'S top-up players have surprised in their first NAB Challenge outing, with the Bombers thrashing a below strength Carlton by 60 points at Ikon Park on Sunday afternoon.

New Bombers Ryan Crowley and Sam Michael were unveiled at the Blues' traditional suburban home and both looked at home alongside fellow top-ups Jonathan Simpkin and Sam Grimley as the Dons notched a 1.13.8 (95) to 1.3.8 (35) win.

Click for full match coverage and stats 

Michael was particularly influential in the second quarter, finishing with a game-high 15 hit-outs and imposing himself by winning the ball at ground level throwing his body around at stoppages.

Crowley, who was booed by the crowd early, started well and appears set to be a half-forward under new coach John Worsfold, rather than the tagger he made his 188-career game as at Fremantle.

Fellow top-up Simpkin (17 possessions) was lively in the midfield, while Grimley finished with 1.3, missing simple set shots in front of goal.

"With youth versus the experience we had in, you think Essendon should win the game, but we had a lot of players that don’t know each other that well," coach John Worsfold said post-match.

"They had a very young midfield in specifically, and we had a pretty good side in, in terms of our availability of players.

"We saw a lot of good things, and the players talking to each other. That was a good part of it."

WATCH: John Worsfold's full post-match media conference

While Essendon surprised, it was a scrappy pre-season clash nonetheless littered with skill errors from two sides expected to battle it out at the foot of the ladder.

The Blues made certain of the result with their selection and in-game rotations, leaving their first choice midfield out and pitting 21 players against 26 in the first half.

The Bombers took advantage in the second quarter, kicking seven unanswered goals to take a 46-point lead into the main break. That buffer never looked like being wound in during the second half.

"We only had 90 rotations today, so we're looking for our group to endure and we got good game time into our players," Carlton coach Brendon Bolton said.

"We'll use the whole NAB Challenge to refine our ball movement. We've got a fair bit of work to do in that area.

"We'll play a much stronger squad against Sydney in a few weeks time."

WATCH: Brendon Bolton's full post-match media conference

Set against the backdrop of the former Princes Park – which more than 18,000 fans flocked to on Sunday to relive suburban football – the match was all about the new for both clubs.

The most obvious positive for the Blues was the assured performance of their prized No.1 draft pick, Jacob Weitering.

Weitering, who didn't feature in the Blues' opening pre-season game, played on the last line of defence and held his own in contests while winning his own ball to finish with 19 possessions and nine marks.

He was among his team's best, with Nick Graham (24 possessions) and Zach Tuohy (18) also working hard.

Another newcomer, female umpire Eleni Glouftsis, nailed her first centre bounce and went on to do a fine job.

Carlton: The Blues do not have the depth to handle injuries and put in competitive performances this season. With their best midfield players – Patrick Cripps, Bryce Gibbs, Marc Murphy and Matthew Kreuzer – sidelined, the Blues were thrashed and didn't look to have the same energy as their opponents. It was a pre-season game, but a result coach Brendon Bolton needs to explain.

Essendon: There shouldn't be a gulf between the weaker teams and then the Bombers this season. Sunday was our first look at the top-up players and three out of the four were competitive. There are six still to be unveiled and they are all hardened players too. It is too early to judge if the Bombers will be competitive against middle-ranked sides (and the strong likelihood is they won't) but at least Carlton and the Brisbane Lions should be nervous if they don't improve on their 2015 efforts. 

Carlton: Jacob Weitering proved he will be a leader in his first season, directing teammates and peeling off to help when needed. Fellow draftees Harry McKay and Jack Silvagni paired forward in the second half, with McKay taking a strong mark and converting in the third quarter and laying a fierce tackle. Silvagni got the crowd excited with some late touches and Daniel Gorringe shared the ruck but didn't stand out.

Essendon: Midfielder Darcy Parish is the new Bomber that fans are most invested in and they would have been happy with what they saw. The midfielder moved well, won enough of the ball to show he can play at this level in 2016 and he generally hit his targets. Former Swan Craig Bird (14 possessions) and rookie Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (10 possessions) were serviceable in a big win.

The Bombers host Geelong on March 5 at Deakin Reserve in Shepparton in their second NAB Challenge match, while the Blues will go on to meet the Sydney Swans at Etihad Stadium on March 11 in their final pre-season hit-out.

CARLTON     0.1.1   0.1.2   1.3.4     1.3.8    (35)
ESSENDON   0.1.3   1.7.3   1.10.5   1.13.8  (95)

Carlton: E Curnow
Essendon: Z Merrett

Carlton: McKay, Smith, Gallucci
Essendon: Daniher 3, Goddard 3, Grimley, Hams, Long, McKernan, Dempsey, Crowley, Merrett

Carlton: Graham, Tuohy, Weitering
Essendon: Goddard, Zaharakis, Edwards, Z Merrett, Gleeson, Bird

Carlton: Nil
Essendon: Nil

Reports: Nil

Umpires: O'Gorman, Schmitt, Jeferry, Glouftsis

Official crowd: 18,718 at Ikon Park