CARLTON admits it still has room to improve after its exciting win over Essendon ahead of a fortnight that could shape its finals run with games against ladder-leaders the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.
The Blues came from 21 points down in the second term to run over the top of the Bombers at the MCG on Sunday, booting 11 goals to eight in the second half to finish 16-point victors.
BOMBERS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
It means all of their three wins this season have come against sides outside the top-eight – Essendon, Gold Coast and Fremantle – with defeats at the hands of Richmond, Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Brisbane – all finalist last year.
Coach David Teague was pleased with his side's improvements in its mammoth 35-goal clash with the Bombers but acknowledged the Blues still had to step up in coming weeks with a clash with the Dogs next week and Demons in round nine.
"We love those games and we want to play in those games. We've played three of the top four from last year and we haven't got the job done, so that's our next step as a group. We need to play a bit better. We have to keep getting better, particularly from a defensive point of view," Teague said after the Blues' win.
"I thought our ball use improved throughout the game but from a defensive point of view to beat these teams you can't give them too many looks and I think we've got to get better. But I'm really confident that if we play near our best – and that's our challenge – that we can beat the Bulldogs or beat Melbourne or whoever we play.
"I think our best is good enough to beat anyone. The challenge is going out there and executing under pressure."
Teague praised four-goal forward Harry McKay for playing through illness against the Bombers, but confirmed his inside-50 partner Mitch McGovern was set to miss multiple weeks with another hamstring strain suffered late in the game.
"I went up to him [post-game] and he just shook his head. He was pretty disappointed. But he just said 'I've been here, I know what to do, I'll be right' but yeah I think it's a hamstring," Teague said.
Former Bomber Adam Saad was pivotal in the Blues win, particularly with his damaging second quarter, and the Carlton coach said the Essendon faithful's booing of his recruit had resonated.
"I loved the boos because they were quite regular so it meant he was getting the ball a bit," Teague said.
"We played them in the first practice game so that first initial nerves of playing your old team – I've got no doubt he still had a few – but I had a chat to him and he felt really comfortable and he understood his role and wanted to go and play his role. I thought he did it really well."
Essendon counterpart Ben Rutten said Saad was a part of the Blues' line-up that benefited from of the Bombers' errors.
"I think it was a little bit of what we were doing that gave them really good opportunities and they were good enough to take them and 'Saady' was one of those who was involved in that," he said.
The loss leaves the Bombers at 2-5 in Rutten's first season at the helm and the club was buoyed by showings of Archie Perkins, Harrison Jones and Nick Bryan, and Rutten said his group is still working on its game.
"[We're] disappointed. I thought we created enough opportunities, we just weren't good enough to be able to take them," he said.
"I thought we showed some growth and improvement through the our stuff around the ball and stoppages, which we've been working really hard at, [but] I thought the biggest issue for us today was our connection between our attack and our defence.
"At times I don't think we used the ball in a way that complemented our defence and Carlton were more effective once they ran the ball back."