CARLTON'S first VFL hitout as a standalone club in 19 years ended in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.
After leading all day on the back of a free-flowing first half, Carlton ultimately succumbed to a rampaging Southport by one point.
AFL-listed duo Liam Stocker and David Cuningham delivered a strong four-quarter effort, but the Blues' composure was tested in the fourth quarter, seeing them give up a 26-point lead as the Sharks came home with a wet sail.
Southport came out of the game firing, scoring a goal within the first minute of the term. Ed Delany and Liam Stocker provided strong intercept marking in the defensive half, as the Blues started to get on top in the middle and around the ground. Anassist from Ben Crocker saw Corey Durdin kick the first goal of the day, before Matt Owies slotted two quick goals in a row to give the Blues the advantage on the scoreboard. David Cuningham’s speed was pivotal to the Blues' ball movement going forward, while Crocker provided a good marking option up forward, taking three marks in a row inside 50 for a return of two goals. James Parsons made an impact on-ball as well as up forward, with his pressure proving the catalyst for two goals as the Blues opened up a 26-point lead at the first change.
The second term opened more evenly, with both sides struggling to lock the ball in their forward 50. Sam Philp was clean around the contest but Southport started to ramp up the pressure pushing forward. Stocker was able to handle the heat down in defence while the impressive Stefan Radovanovic helped clear the ball in dangerous territory. Owies got the first of the term, slotting his third for the day after an assist from Crocker, as the Blues looked to stamp their authority on the contest once more. Southport fought back hard, kicking two quick goals as Carlton struggled to stop their quick transition from defence to attack. Cuningham’s clearance work was quick as the Blues challenged the Sharks, pinning the ball in their half and finishing the job in front of goal with accurate kicking.
Cuningham’s high work-rate continued through the middle, as well as contributing a goal from outside 50 to add to his impressive game. Lochie O'Brien provided an outlet on the wing to transition from defence to attack, as Southport began to lock the ball in its own half. Both teams struggled to reap full reward from their forward entries, with Carlton's back line holding up well but the team unable to capitalise in front of goal (4.6 for the term). A classy running goal from Durdin ended a goalless 20 minutes from the Blues, before Cody Hirst and Toby Wooller added to the growing list of individual goalkickers as the Blues dominated possession in the last 10 minutes.
Southport wasn’t going down without a fight, kicking the first two goals of the term as the visitors began to ask plenty of questions of the Blues. Youngster Cooper Stephens gave consistent effort in a busy back line, with the Sharks generating repeat entries into their forward line. Southport ultimately drew level with still 10 minutes to play in the final term, with the ball movement frantic from both sides in search of a win. O'Brien stood up with a classy running goal to give the Blues breathing space, which extended after a goal from co-captain Matt Shannon gave the Blues a two-goal buffer. However, a fifth goal from former Blue Billy Gowers and a late free kick to Lukas Webb saw the Sharks emerge from the game with a one-point advantage come the final siren.
CARLTON 6.2 10.4 14.10 16.12 (108)
SOUTHPORT 2.0 7.3 11.3 17.7 (109)
Goals: Owies 4, Crocker 2, Durdin 2, Cuningham, Hirst, Honey, O’Brien, Philp, Shannon, Stocker, Wooller
Best: Radovanovic, Stocker, Cuningham, O'Brien, Wooller, Stephens