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Blake Acres goals
Blake Acres (file photo)

The first Semi-Final at the MCG started tonight with the stadium fuller than it has than it has been in many years, outside of a Grand Final. Max Gawn won the first tap, Carlton the first clearance and inside 50, Melbourne the first 50 clearance. All standard stuff. It was going to be tough night for players and spectators alike, but not all would be predictable.

Charlie Curnow looked to be on song early marking outside 50 for the Blues and his long kick at goal before the defenders could get back was only a degree off being six points. At the other end Charlie Spargo, coming into the side tonight, kicked the first score for the Dees. Advantage was paid to Langdon who kicked the first goal of the match after Kosi Pickett was taken out of the contest, unusually by the furthest umpire from the contest.

Carlton captain Cripps was in a number of scuffles early, sticking up for his teammates. Kosi Pickett tried to do it at the other end when Smith should have had a shot at goal, but the umpire reversed the kick due to Pickett's jumper punch on the Carlton defender. Sam Walsh hit up Fogarty with a short kick just inside the 50, but the set shot was sprayed to the right. The Demons got the overlap on the turnover and what in past has been easy for him, this season has been hard for Bailey Fritsch as his first shot went wide to the right.

A long clearing handball from the pack in the pocket to Joel Smith, saw him set upon by two defenders who took him high. The resulting free kick was from 15 meters out straight in front and he was rewarded with the maximum six points. Jake Lever was prominent early and took three intercept mark by the halfway mark of the quarter. 

The highlight of the quarter came when Petracca marked on his own in the pocket, motioned to play on and the umpire called play on, he tried to take it back but realized it was too late and from a very tight angle, and a defender closing on him, he drilled a flat drop punt straight over the goal umpire's head for the goal. De Koning able to mark 40 meters out 45 degree angle in one on one contest. He calmly slotted the goal and lived it up with Carlton supporters in celebration of his efforts. A minute later as the ball entered the forward 50 he was pushed by May in the marking contest and from the opposite side of the ground kicked his second goal. At quarter time the Demons lead by seven points with the defenses of May, Lever and Rivers Leading the way in defense for the Demons. But Carlton put them back in the game in the back half of the quarter.

Both teams had good early opportunities in the second quarter. Chandler kicked the first behind of the quarter for Melbourne. Melbourne were already looking at their best when they can get the ball away from the packs. Max Gawn is very important for driving that, but the Blues were doing a good job of keeping the ball locked in wherever possible, and Pittonet was playing Gawn close too. Pickett appeared to take Cripps high and Cripps left the ground, bleeding from his nose. He would return to the ground seemingly unaffected. Weitering like Lever earlier, was taking some good intercept marks around the ground and that started to turn the Blues fortunes. So it was that Jesse Motlop kicked the first goal of the quarter with a checkside goal on the run from the pocket on very tight angle 25 meters out.  

Melbourne's back six had been pretty disciplined so far but they all converged around the top of the goal square and closed in on the Carlton forwards, but when Walsh came running inside 50 he had enough room the flicked the ball out to him, and he was able to get a good shot off and kick the Blues second goal of the quarter, and put them in front.  Fogarty's quick wobbly kick inside 50 a minute later saw Curnow able to get separation from May and stretching high to take the mark and goal. 

Carlton were now starting to dominate the stoppages and get the ball inside 50 more often. This allowed Melbourne, who won the ball out of the middle, when Oliver was awarded the free kick in the roving contest. Joel Smith took a great aerial mark on the lead, and from 30 meters out kicked his second goal for the night. Neal-Bullen roved the contest in the forward pocket and was able to step and kick on his left boot and somehow avoid multiple defenders. It took until the ball was about to be bounced before the score review turned it over as it was touched as he kicked.

Sam Docherty's shoulder popped out in the contest and left the ground but he would later return to the ground after half time. De Koning took two very good aerial marks this quarter, the latter the highlight of the quarter. Fritsch could have put Melbourne back in front late in the quarter with a high shot at goal that drifted wide of the large post. Then equally at the other end Owies had a chance to mark in close range to goal but couldn't pull it in. Despite this, the Blues lead by two points at half time and looked the better of the two teams to this point.

Matthew Kennedy, who was good for the Blues in the second quarter, took things up a notch kicking the first goal of the second half. Kosi Pickett now playing as the Demon's key forward, got on the end of a lead but his kick drifted to the right. Bad kicking was starting to hurt the Demons. One man who was accurate tonight was Joel Smith. When Pickett kicked a high chip to Smith all alone in the pocket, he confidently kicked his third goal for the night. At the other end it was Acres, who somehow was the only one who leapt to mark a chipped kick from Motlop inside Carlton's 50 and he, too, kicked straight for goal.

Melbourne tried to break the game open with speed and an open forward line where Pickett was the focus, but Carlton's defenders and midfielders worked back hard to even it up. With speed came errors. A poor kick in the shot at goal by Langdon for the Dees went out of bounds on the full and then a free kick to Newman was short and off hands for a behind. That was the start of five minutes of poor turnovers, mostly due to shanked kicks from both teams.  

Ironically, the kick that broke the clanger [poor kick] deadlock came when Oliver who just threw the his boot at the ball and it skidded forward into the hands of Fritsch. On the run Fritsch was able to steer a low pass between the big sticks for a goal. From the clearance the Demons got the ball inside 50 to Sparrow and he kicked a point to level the scores. Pickett finally kicked his first goal of the night when he stripped the ball out of the pack and stepped around a number of defenders and scrubbed the ball through for the goal. That saw the Demons with a one goal lead at three quarter time. It looked like they had turned the momentum back their way.

As the final quarter started, Carlton won the first clearance and Walsh running inside 50 kicked the first goal. This leveled the scores once again. Kennedy chipped inboard to find Owies 35 meters out and Carlton players and fans alike celebrated being back in it with a winning chance when he kicked the goal. Carlton subbed Cunningham out for Hollands who provided fresh legs for the Blues.

Melbourne hit back when Spargo avoided three defenders with his speed and he chipped a short pass to Pickett, who marked 40 meters out and his kick was also good to level the scores yet again. They extended the lead in the next forward entry when the quick kick inside 50 was picked up and kicked by Pickett onto Fritsch and he played on to kick his second goal for the night. A Curnow long driving kick to the goal line was touched when the Blues really needed the 6 points. Viney at the other end also wasted a good opportunity to goal as his kick went wide of the target.

Sparrow marked on the 50m arc, his set shot marked next to the point post by Max Gawn but his right foot banana kick hit the near goal post.  A big turnover by Langdon on the wing saw the Dees get the ball to Fritsch deep in the pocket but his kick wide to the right for a behind.  The missed opportunities stacking up for the Demons.

Again the Blues got the ball down to Curnow but May outmarked him. At most contests Melbourne seemed to have the answers, but then Motlop's snap from the pocket was good and the Blues were back to within three points.

As the quarter reached its peak, the umpires really did appear to put the whistle away were reluctant to pay insufficient intent or front on contact. Carlton were desperate to force a goal, and Owies snapped towards goal but the ball was marked again by Stephen May.  Kemp's flying shot at goal went out of bounds on the full and the effort went for naught. More opportunities for a goal presented for Melbourne to seal the victory. A free kick to Clayton Oliver on the boundary 50 meters out was touched by his teammate Max Gawn on the line costing the Demons a goal. Then Pickett snapped toward goal and hit the post, putting Melbourne five points in the lead. 

Just as it looked like Melbourne would hold the Blues out, there was a big turnover in the middle of ground and Carlton scrambled the ball forward to Blake Acres who marks and plays on to slam the ball home for a goal. This the Blues in front by a solitary point with 58 seconds left on the clock. 

Carlton managed to lock the ball down in contests for much of the final minute and when Kennedy soccered a behind with only three seconds remaining on the clock, Carlton and Melbourne players slumped to the ground exhausted. Carlton supporters in the stadium were ecstatic, jumping and screaming and belting out their team song. Their song has not been sung so loud and proud for many a year and they will now hope to sing it twice more this season. The Blues were into a Preliminary Final, just one win from the Grand Final, for the first time in 23 seasons. 

Despite the high for the Carlton faithful at this two point win, the Brisbane Lions would not have seen a lot the tonight that would scare them next week when they host tonight's winners. Carlton's strength is no doubt their midfield and the likes of Cripps and Walsh were among the best players tonight and kept their team in it. The defense was solid without dominating but their forwards could hardly said to have set the night on fire. They will need to lift significantly to take their team to the Grand Final. For the Demons, they will rue the lost promise of a great season.

Melbourne: 3.3 4.7 7.11  9.17 (71)
Carlton:   2.2 5.3 7.5  11.7  (73)

GOALS
Melbourne: Smith 3, Pickett 2, Fritsch 2, Langdon, Petracca 
Carlton:   De Koning 2, Walsh 2, Motlop 2, Acres 2, Kennedy, Curnow, Owies

BEST on Ground
Melbourne: May, Oliver, Viney, Smith, Petracca
Carlton:   Walsh, Cripps, Newman, De Koning, Weitering, Saad

INJURIES
Melbourne: Nil
Carlton:   Cripps (nose), Docherty (shoulder)

SUBSTITUTES
Melbourne: Josh Schache (unused)
Carlton:   Ollie Hollands (replaced David Cuningham in the fourth quarter)

Crowd: 96,412 at the MCG

Article last changed on Saturday, September 16, 2023 - 9:31 AM EDT


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