Geelong warmed up for next Saturday’s AFL blockbuster against Hawthorn by pinching a dramatic six-point win over Carlton at Etihad Stadium.
The Cats, particularly patchy in the second quarter when they laid a total of four tackles, were tested throughout Friday night but prevailed 11.16 (82) to 11.10 (76).
Allen Christensen was rewarded a controversial free kick with three minutes remaining and calmly slotted the match winner.
The decision came from the umpire in the middle of the ground, who was about 50m away from the ball.
“The umpires are just too keen to get involved,” remarked Garry Lyon on Triple M radio.
Geelong claimed top spot on the ladder, although Sydney and Hawthorn can leapfrog them this weekend with round-21 victories over St Kilda and Fremantle respectively.
The Cats’ seventh straight win lacked polish and was anything but assured when they trailed by three points at three-quarter time.
The expectation in these clashes is the misfiring Cats will compose themselves before the final siren and find a way to get over the line, as has happened too many times since their 2007 premiership.
There were yet more reasons to doubt how the 13th-placed Blues would get up.
Leg injuries to Carlton’s Dale Thomas and David Ellard in the second quarter, and a shoulder issue for influential Troy Menzel in the third term, meant the hosts were depleted at the death.
But without classy stars Jimmy Bartel (corked thigh) and Steve Johnson (foot), who collected the Brownlow and North Smith medals respectively in 2007, it appeared Chris Scott’s men had forgotten the script.
When Jarrad Waite booted his second goal, there was a tick over five minutes remaining and Cats trailed by seven points.
Talismanic Tom Hawkins had been clunking marks – he finished with eight – but otherwise had a dirty night and managed 0.3.
Inaccuracy in front of the sticks was like a disease in the Cats’ forward line – in the third quarter, they booted 2.8.
Steven Motlop, who slotted three goals and impressed in the absence of Johnson and Bartel, had opened the final quarter with another minor score.
But the Cats found a way, responding in style to Waite.
Substitute Jackson Thurlow, playing his sixth game, steadied with a running goal before Christensen put his side in front when it mattered.
It was reminiscent of the Cats’ round-12 win over Carlton by five points, when skipper Joel Selwood kicked the match winner after a quiet night.
Selwood was held to 21 disposals by Andrew Carrazzo this time, while Carlton captain Marc Murphy was restricted to 19 touches by Cameron Guthrie.
The two pairs often clashed off the ball in what was an at-times spiteful affair.
Harry Taylor (eight marks, 24 touches) and Josh Caddy (28 disposals, four tackles) were some of the Cats’ prime movers.