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AFL match report: Brilliant comeback for backs

Nov 24, 2023

BACKS to the wall, four points in the bank.

A resurgent second half from Carlton has seen it record its seventh consecutive win, accounting for St Kilda by 19 points.

The Blues struggled under incessant Saints pressure early, with the home side recording over 50 tackles in the first half. However, the Blues came out with renewed spirit in the second half, kicking seven goals to one to overturn a 22-point deficit into a 19-point win.

Nic Newman was simply superb in a faultless defensive performance, amassing 35 disposals, while Blake Acres was the hero against his former side, kicking his second of the game in the dying stages to seal an animated win.

Watch the highlights from the Round 21 win over St Kilda.

Quarter one

The stakes of the game were clearly from the get go, with neither side giving an each at the contest. Starting across half-back, where he has spent previous weeks in the VFL, Zac Fisher made the most of his senior recall in the early going, collecting five disposals in as many minutes to commence proceedings. The Blues’ pressure around the ball was typically strong, but unlike last week, they weren’t able to make early opportunities count, spurning shots on goal whereas the Saints took theirs with the opening two of the game. It was Jack Martin who led from the front in attack, taking a strong mark and converting by the width of the goal line from outside 50 to get the Blues on the board. Against his former side, Blake Acres - who was full of offensive and defensive running - followed suit shortly after, giving the Blues the lead back with his seventh first-quarter disposal. Jacob Weitering continued his brilliant personal form behind the ball, negating the returning Max King with a pair of contested intercept marks, as the Blues’ midfielders got on top around the ball (+10 contested possessions). Just when it looked as though the Blues would go into the quarter-time break with the lead, a late turnover was punished by Jack Higgins, giving the Saints a three-point lead.

Quarter two

It was a term of football that the Blues were left to rue at the main break, with the home side well and truly getting the jump on them. Come the nine-minute mark of the quarter, the Saints had piled on the first three goals of the term, opening up a 21-point discrepancy in the process. It started at the contest, with the Blues’ advantage around the ball in the opening term nullified: the opponents tied up the contested ball count at the half, and Carlton’s game suffered as a result. It wasn’t through a lack of trying from Nic Newman, who had 10 second-quarter disposals at 100 per cent efficiency, but it was an indication off the Blues’ back six being under pressure for the majority of the term. Turnovers which have been uncharacteristic of Carlton in the last six weeks crept into the team’s game, despite Jesse Motlop providing a moment of respite with a major. Inside 50s were even at the break, but the Saints were more efficient with the ball and in front of goal, taking a 22-point lead - doubling the Blues’ score - at the main break.

Quarter three

Marc Pittonet signalled the Blues’ renewed intent coming out of the sheds at half time, smothering an attempted Jack Sinclair clearance to get the ball going forward for the Blues. Carlton continued its ascendancy in the clearances, winning the first seven of the term to put the St Kilda defence under increasing strain. A quick kick out of the contest sailed through the big sticks from Tom De Koning, kickstarting a run which once again saw the play live largely in the Blues’ forward half in the early going of the term: however, unlike the first quarter, the Blues were able to capitalise. With his 20th goal of the season, Jesse Motlop streamed through the middle of the ground to deliver a clutch goal, while Charlie Curnow’s assist for a Matthew Owies major was just as good. It was around the ball where Carlton flexed its collective muscle, winning the stat 12-2 for the quarter, while the second half of the term saw the Blues’ backs lift. There were no better than Newman, who - continuing his outstanding 2023 - had a further 12 disposals, repelling the surging Saints brilliantly, while the dynamic Fisher had another 10.

Jesse Motlop bursts through the middle of the ground and is rewarded with this stunning goal

Quarter four

It ultimately turned into what could be the defining quarter of Carlton’s season. David Cuningham set the Blues alight with a clutch banana from the pocket, setting in motion what would be an irrepressible Navy Blue outfit in the final term. After grinding away in the third quarter, the Blues were brutal in the last, with the ball living in their forward half for the entirety of the term. After a tense few minutes, Paddy Dow put the Blues in front following sustained pressure from all of Carlton’s lines. Once again, the on-ballers got the ball surging forward, winning clearances 12-4 — four of those coming from Tom De Koning alone. After playing an unselfish role all day, the subdued Charlie Curnow got on the scoreboard, just seconds after Ed Curnow got involved after being activated as sub. Weitering continued to play a vital role on the last line, before it was the former Saint in Acres who saved the play of the day for the final minutes: winning the ball on centre wing, the wingman carved through four Saints players on the way to kicking a goal from 50, sealing an emotional come-from-behind win under the roof.

David Cuningham quickly thumps the hot footy onto his boot to secure this critical major.

Three things we learned

1. Carlton supporters have been talking about Nic Newman all season, but after the last two weeks, surely the football world is. When the Blues were under serious Saints pressure, Newman was there every single time, particularly in the second term when the Blues were struggling to get any meaningful play on their terms. Then, in the third quarter when the Blues got back in the contest, he was there again. Of his 35 disposals for the game (an equal career-high), 22 of those came in the middle two quarters in a best-on-ground performance.

2. Newman wasn’t alone across half-back — and there was a surprise face next to him. For those who haven’t been following on with the Carlton Reserves, Zac Fisher has spent recent weeks playing in the defensive half, and he showed his creativity in abundance on Sunday afternoon. Starting with 11 disposals in the first term, Fisher was an attacking outlet for the Blues, amassing 32 disposals at 84 per cent efficiency to make the most of his return to senior football. He rarely wasted a disposal, particularly in his 18-possession second half, as one of 16 Blues who featured in the win over the Saints that have featured at VFL level this season.

3. Charlie Curnow didn’t fire on the scoreboard, but the team didn’t need him to. While he delivered a typically clutch moment, giving the Blues a two-goal buffer late in the final term, Carlton otherwise had to find different avenues to score on a day where Harry McKay and Jack Silvagni also weren’t there. On the back of midfield dominance, Carlton had options aplenty in the second half, with only Jesse Motlop and the outstanding Acres the only multiple goalkickers for the game. All of the Blues’ seven second-half goalkickers were individuals.

Carlton's lead grows as Charlie Curnow slots this thrilling major from the pocket.

ST KILDA 3.1 7.2 8.3 8.6 (54)CARLTON 2.4 3.4 6.7 10.13 (73)

GOALSCarlton: Acres 2, Motlop 2, Cuningham, C.Curnow, De Koning, Dow, Martin, Owies

BESTSCarlton: Newman, Fisher, Acres, Weitering, Martin, Docherty

Quarter oneQuarter twoQuarter threeQuarter fourThree things we learnedST KILDA CARLTON GOALSCarlton: BESTSCarlton: