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Match of the Day: Bombers and Blues serve up another memorable bout

Bomber fans are delirious as Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti clinches a critical four points against Carlton at the MCG. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Bombers and Blues serve up another memorable bout

Clashes between Essendon and Carlton have for a long time now operated independently of both form and expectation, results often confounding logic.

It’s often the way with arch enemies, and a reason that despite the Blues long being out of finals contention having lost their last six games and Essendon still very much in the finals mix, no supporter of either club at the MCG on Saturday could confidently know how this clash would turn out.

They still couldn’t almost four full quarters later, either, or at least until with just 63 seconds left on the clock, Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti finally sealed a game the Bombers had won, then appeared to have lost, before right at the death grabbing a critical four match points.

That produced an ear-splitting roar, for Essendon one as much of relief as jubilation. Because Carlton have on several memorable occasions in modern football history played the role of Bomber nemesis, and for much of the second half, this had looked likely to prove another.

It was a game in many ways a microcosm of either club’s seasons. For the Bombers, that meant early domination without capitalising enough on the scoreboard, a frustrating lapse and an exhilarating cameo at the end that on this occasion, did prove just enough.

And in Carlton’s case, that early failure to switch on was the difference between defeat and victory. Because after letting the Dons off the chain, the Blues were terrific in getting the game back on their terms before their own scoring inefficiency came home to roost in a final-term 2.5 when a memorable win was theirs for the taking.

All of which, to those uninitiated in the ways of the Bombers and Blues, must have seemed pretty unlikely when Essendon bolted out to an early 28-point lead, Zach Merrett and Brendon Goddard dominant midfield and Joe Daniher looking set for a picnic up forward.

Essendon cut a swathe through the centre corridor in that opening term, Daniher on fire. Which made the efforts of reborn Carlton key defender Liam Jones pivotal in turning the tide.

From the moment the second quarter began, it was clear that the situation had changed. As it has so often this season, Carlton managed to choke the opposition, winning a decent share of ball in dispute then deftly controlling the possession and thus the tempo of this game.

Jones revelled in what now became far more haphazard Essendon forward entries, judging the flight better, bold in zoning off his man when the situation allowed, completely curbing Daniher’s influence in keeping him to just one more goal for the rest of the day.

Carlton’s key midfield drivers, ruckman Matthew Kreuzer and veteran pair Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs, began to take over, the Blues with a mortgage on the stoppages and particularly at the centre bounce, which by the long break they led 8-1.

Matthew Wright chipped in in opportunistic fashion for the only two goals of the second term, Sam Docherty was cleaning up everything off half-back, and what chances the now far-more-static Bombers did manage to create were being wasted.

A miserable three behinds left the side seemingly headed for a rout just half-an-hour before now with a slender 10-point lead at half-time. And even a 20-minute spell did little to arrest that zeitgeist, Essendon now throwing some ill-considered disposal and ill-discipline into a dangerous mix.

The Bombers missed chance after chance, key forward Cale Hooker the main culprit, and 11 straight behinds between goals the costly toll. And all the while, Carlton crept closer.

A silly lapse from ruckman Tom Bellchambers gifted Wright his third goal. Jed Lamb slipped a Marty Gleeson tackle which wouldn’t stick and snapped another. And when Kreuzer converted, Carlton had hit the front.

Bomber captain Dyson Heppell had been one of the few Dons to maintain his level during the Blues’ onslaught. But even his team-lifting bomb from the 50 failed to stem the flow.

Docherty broke from half-back, spotted Jack Silvagni in acres of space and Carlton was back within a kick. And when Charlie Curnow followed up with a free kick, the Blues were back in the lead.

The team-lifting moments were Carlton’s. Jarrod Picket did the seemingly unthinkable and chased down McDonald-Tipunguwti. Levi Casboult defied expectation and kicked straight. And when Gibbs added another, Essendon showing little sign of a revival, the writing was on the wall. Or so it seemed.

Again, a Bombers-Blues clash took an unexpected twist. Silvagni and Sam Petrevski-Seton missed a couple of chances to seal the deal. And McDonald-Tipungwuti, perhaps still smarting from being pinged in possession, suddenly lit up the MCG.

Josh Green missed for the Dons. So did Hooker. Another desperate snap into the square saw the little Essendon action man perfectly placed for the spills. He took possession, threaded his was between two defenders and brought the Bombers back within four points.

McDonald-Tipungwuti followed up by smothering a Carlton kick-in, his presence now everywhere. Hooker missed – again – his match tally now 1.5. Finally, after yet another strong grab, he split the middle, Essendon in front again, but still the opportunity for more drama and another lead change.

Now it was Casboult’s turn to miss the moment, a set shot from 30 metres sprayed badly to the left. From the resultant kick-in, a stoppage. And then the decisive play.

Heppell’s clearing kick from defence went to one-on-one between James Stewart and Caleb Marchbank. It was the Bomber who found his feet first and won possession. And the spotting of McDonald-Tipungwuti streaming through the corridor unattended with not a soul between he and the goals was like a lighthouse beacon to a ship in distress.

Stewart let rip, “Walla” charged into the open goal, and after twists this way and that, the matter was settled once and for all. Another pulsating Essendon-Carlton bout. More surprises. And confirmation that the old adage “no matter where they are on the ladder” is for these two teams always appropriate.

ESSENDON 5.5 5.8 7.14 11.18 (84)
CARLTON 2.1 4.4 9.5 11.10 (76)

GOALS – Essendon: Daniher 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 3, Hooker 2, Green, Howlett, Heppell. Carlton: Wright 3, Boekhorst, Petrevski-Seton, Lamb, Silvagni, C.Curnow, Kreuzer, Casboult, Gibbs

BEST – Essendon: Heppell, Zaharakis, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Hurley, Merrett, Parish, Myers. Carlton: Jones, Docherty, Wright, Murphy, Kreuzer, Petrevski-Seton, Gibbs.

INJURIES – Essendon: Fantasia (hamstring). Carlton: Nil

Umpires: Haussen, Hay, Meredith

Crowd: 58,562

1 Comment
  1. Nice write-up, Rohan.
    There was a massive difference in the way the to teams defended – when Essendon had the ball it was man-on-man by Carlton, when Carlton had the ball it was zoning off by Essendon which played right into the kick/catch gamestyle preferred by the Blues.

    With the Dons barely breaking even at the 50/50’s and with Carlton players taking strong marks on the wing, when Carlton had to go forward they gave themselves a chance to get to F50.

    Quite a few Essendon players seemed a bit off the boil… most conspicuously Watson & Hurley.

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