Chris Judd was injured but Carlton posted their first win of the AFL season on Sunday, downing Western Bulldogs by 28 points in a brilliant exhibition of free-flowing football.
A suspected hamstring injury to Judd, playing his first game since undergoing pre-season achilles surgery, was a blot on the Blues’ 18.11 (119) to 13.13 (91) victory at Etihad Stadium.
But it should not take the gloss of a performance chock-full of character, the Blues operating with one fit man on the bench for most of the fourth term after Ed Curnow crashed into a goal post.
The Bulldogs challenged late and trailed by 18 points when Stewart Crameri kicked his fourth goal, the first of the final quarter being a showstopper from the 50m arc.
Crameri was then among a handful of Bulldogs to miss chances and Carlton veteran Heath Scotland kicked the sealer.
Judd returned as the substitute and lasted seven minutes, limping off in the third quarter after an apparent twang followed his second kick.
The frenzied Blues looked a completely different side to that which was embarrassed by Essendon and humiliated by Melbourne in their past two starts.
The club’s leaders, having their credentials questioned throughout the week, stood up with captain Marc Murphy at the fore.
Murphy finished with 28 touches, 11 tackles and quite possibly three Brownlow votes.
Carlton speedster Chris Yarran’s pace and pressure was telling, while Bryce Gibbs had 29 disposals.
Then there were key forwards Jarrad Waite and Lachie Henderson, who menaced a Bulldogs defence minus Dale Morris (suspension) and Jordan Roughead (shoulder).
Waite and Henderson combined for eight goals in a congestion-free contest that wound the clock back – the Sherrin pinballing around the ground and one-on-one contests abounding.
The Blues were also superb at the blue-collar stuff, beating the Bulldogs in tackles (85-71) and contested possessions (150-134).
Whether it be on the last line of defence or streaming through the middle of the ground, the Blues played on with reckless abandon and moved the ball swiftly with great reward,
Confidence – the buzzword uttered by coach Mick Malthouse, Murphy and Henderson throughout the week – was back.
Come the seventh minute of the match, Gibbs’ hurried kick found Henderson on his own and the Blues had the first goal and underlined their new-found bold approach.
By the end of the first quarter, Carlton had already kicked as many goals as they managed in a woeful 23-point loss to the Demons.
At halftime the supposed club in crisis led by 30 points and had 13 goals on the board, already their highest tally in a match this season.