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Blues push Eagles to brink

Travis King, AFL Media  August 12, 2017 11:02 PM

Highlights | Carlton vs West Coast Watch the highights from Carlton's close loss to West Coast in Round 21.

PART one of West Coast's trilogy of season-defining games didn't exactly go to script but the Eagles dodged a potentially lethal bullet against Carlton, winning by 17 points to stay alive in the finals race.

Few gave the Blues – riding a bumpy seven-game losing streak – hope of seriously threatening West Coast but Brendon Bolton's plucky outfit pushed the hosts to the brink of disaster before falling short 15.10 (100) to 12.11 (83).

The Eagles breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final siren, having led by as many as 35 points in the second quarter and then watching as the never-say-die Blues hit the front after a barnstorming third term.

Anxiety swept through supporters during the fourth quarter – amid real concerns over West Coast's awful recent history of fadeouts – however the Eagles found just enough to scramble over the line. 

With a blustery breeze at their backs they kicked five goals to three to notch their 11th victory and move into seventh spot on the ladder.

"It was sort of a game that we thought would be a little bit like that. The way Carlton have been playing for most of the year, you'd say that they've been in almost every game at stages," Eagles coach Adam Simpson said post-match.

"But it was disappointing for us in the third quarter - I think we conceded five or six goals in a row almost - and our inability to shut that down and stop their uncontested play, which we knew they would come with at some stage, was a concern."

To their credit, the brave Blues made a mockery of suggestions they will be easily leapfrogged by the Lions and win another wooden spoon.

For West Coast, superstar spearhead Josh Kennedy was again the difference, bagging six goals to move one ahead of Essendon's Joe Daniher in his chase for an historic third-straight Coleman Medal.

Kennedy has booted 26 goals in his five games since coming back from a calf strain, and has 60 for the year.

That he is even still in the Coleman Medal hunt owes to his ability to feast when others would starve.

West Coast's battles with a lack of forward supply continued to plague them on Saturday night, with Carlton winning the inside 50 count 54-46.

Criticised in some quarters for a methodical gamestyle, Bolton released the shackles and his young outfit relished the freedom.

The Blues were switched on early, bringing the heat (18-13 tackles), dominating inside 50s (18-9) and capitalising on the strong breeze.

Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs' classy finishes silenced the 30,491-strong crowd, and predictions of Carlton's star midfield trio getting on top were becoming reality with Matthew Kreuzer (17 disposals, 33 hit-outs) in total command of his ruck duel with Nathan Vardy.

But the Eagles lifted around the ball and - although Kennedy was held statless by reborn defender Liam Jones - everything goalsneak Jamie Cripps touched turned to gold.

Cripps booted three first-term majors, equaling his best return for the season, as the home side edged ahead 24-21 at the break.

Then it was Kennedy's turn to get off the chain in the second quarter. The dual Coleman medallist broke Jones' shackles with three majors and the floodgates burst open.

Carlton missed four golden opportunities to bridge the gap before half-time – then Levi Casboult rubbed salt into the wounds by passing instead of taking a set shot as the siren sounded – and from 31 points down the Blues looked shot.

However, Bolton's men had other ideas.

A third-quarter built on swarming pressure and gutsy run-and-gun football stunned the hosts.

"I thought at times we opened up our ball movement a little bit more," Bolton said post-match.

"We've been trying to do that for a while, but players executed a few of those plays.

"They'll look at those and get some more confidence from it, because defensively they're doing a lot right."
 

Carlton exposed West Coast's lack of leg speed and the Blues piled on six unanswered goals to hit the front by six points, with Jarrod Pickett and Jack Silvagni (two goals) leading the charge.

However, Kennedy's fourth steadied West Coast's ship and levelled scores heading into the final term.

Retiring Eagles veterans Sam Mitchell (24 disposals) and Matt Priddis (10 tackles) were important in the tense moments late as the Eagles survived, while Elliot Yeo (22 disposals) rediscovered his dash and dare.

Luke Shuey's work extracting eight centre clearances was crucial, especially in the final term, while Jeremy McGovern was a rock in defence again.

The Blues can hold their heads high on the flight home. None were better than leaders Murphy (29, two goals) and Gibbs (26, one), but there are brighter times ahead for Carlton with young guns like Silvagni, Pickett, Charlie Curnow and Sam Petrevski-Seton promising plenty.

WEST COAST   4.0   9.2   10.4   15.10 (100)
CARLTON         3.3   3.7   9.10   12.11 (83)

GOALS

West Coast: Kennedy 6, Cripps 3, Darling 2, Redden 2, Hutchings, Partington
Carlton: Murphy 2, Silvagni 2, Casboult 2, Lamb, Gibbs, Fisher, Pickett, Boekhorst, Curnow 

BEST 
West Coast: Kennedy, Mitchell, Yeo, McGovern, Redden
Carlton: Murphy, Kreuzer, Gibbs, Kerridge, Curnow 

INJURIES 

West Coast: Nil
Carlton: Nil 

Reports: Nil

Umpires: H.Gavine, S.Jeffery, S.McInerney

Official crowd: 30,491 

NEXT UP

The Eagles face a crucial road trip against the in-form Giants in a true test of their finals credentials. A loss could spell the end of their finals hopes if results go against them. Carlton will be back at Etihad Stadium to host Hawthorn in the penultimate round.