Ken Hinkley may need his blood pressure checked after Port Adelaide seemed determined to make it a nail-biter.
In the dying minutes, Port faltered at every given chance – and there were plenty – to hit the lead.
Dan Houston missed a set shot 50 metres out. Charlie Dixon hit the post 20 metres out from straight in front. Robbie Gray also missed a set shot 20 metres out. Outnumbering Carlton at the top of the goal square with their best chance yet, Robbie Gray dished it off to Todd Marshall who sprayed a snap 10 metres out. Agony.
With every miss Carlton’s hope of holding on against all odds grew, until Robbie Gray burst the navy blue bubble with his after the siren deadeye dagger from the pocket, earning Port a 9.10.64 to 9.7.61 victory.
Nerves of steel!
Charlie Dixon had recaptured his supreme six-goal form and was Port’s main target all night – they targeted him 19 times. He dominated Liam Jones to grab six contested marks, but lacked sorely in front of goal only kicking 3.4. When Port were looking to hit the lead in the final minutes, the blood rule forced him from the field.
As the misses continued Dixon couldn’t get back on the ground, seemingly dashing Port’s hopes even though they had the ball locked in their forward half.
How it Happened
Carlton owned the most part of a fast paced opening quarter, but Port Adelaide managed to slow the game down and get it on their terms. Once they did, a tight arm wrestle ensued as both sides refused to pull away and take control. Port’s 18 point lead was the biggest of the day and beyond that the margin never exceeded 10.
A commanding start from Port Adelaide saw them streak way to a three goal lead whilst the Blues had barely touched the footy.
The game’s dynamic changed in the blink of an eye as Carlton started punishing Port through turnovers. The Blues sliced them up the middle on multiple occasions; capitalising on the acres of space being provided to run, bounce, and enter their 50.
The Blues' first five goals all came from turnovers, and just one of their first 32 points wasn’t as such.
In the first half Carlton lived and died by crucial moments. A vintage high flying Eddie Betts pack mark and subsequent Michael Gibbons goal snapped them out of their lackluster trance and into action, turning around a three goal deficit to head into quarter time with a one point lead. In turn, a Port Adelaide goal coming almost straight after a Levi Casboult miss from 15 metres out killed the morsel of momentum the Blues had been clinging onto.
Betts winds back the clock
The trend only intensified as the game progressed – for both sides.
With Carlton’s turnover game and fast paced style restricted, the second half played out at a slow burn. As fatigue and pressure set in, the scoring rate picked up marginally in a final quarter that made for enthralling viewing.
In an obscurely low night for disposals, Blues bull Patrick Cripps (six clearances) and Port ruckman Peter Ladhams shared the top of the stat sheet with 21 each. Tom Jonas, Ryan Burton, Ollie Wines and Ed Curnow all picked up 20.
Dixon was pivotal for Port with his three goals (from eight scoring shots), Carlton's tall timber Harry McKay kicked 3.0. Sam Walsh capped off his stellar night that included a courageous back-with-the-flight mark with two goals and sixteen disposals. Port’s Kane Farrell also contributed two goals to couple his 11 disposals at 100% efficiency.
Carlton hurt their bid for a first finals appearance in seven years by missing out on four premiership points, but that was the extent of the damage. They’ve now played five of the top eight, having beaten Geelong, Essendon and the Western Bulldogs, whilst pushing Richmond and Port Adelaide. Finals is certainly not out of the question for David Teague’s men, and the Baggers can dare to dream.
Port Adelaide were impressive, adapting and showing character to maintain their one match buffer at the top of the ladder. They are shaping as a real dark-horse for the premiership, growing more ominous with each passing week.