Friday, September 08, 2006

Round 21

The Old Blue Stager Report

Collingwood 156 d. Carlton 112

This match eventually unfolded as expected, but with some interesting diversions along the way. Carlton opened brightly and controlled general play while achieving a modest score-board advantage during one and a half quarters. The turning point was Didak's hit on Scotland, which removed Carlton's best player from the action, and turned the Blueboys feral.

The umpires also made their own mark during these key minutes. Immediately after the incident, Carlton broke away to achieve the greatest lead of the game 23 points. However, the Blues' players determination to "fly the flag" or whatever cliche is apposite, saw Collingwood achieve two goals without the ball being returned to the centre. This followed a behind by Didak, which led to some argy-bargy between him and Whitnall. Result, a gifted goal to Collingwood, when the free-kick was given in the goal-square, as the ball had not been returned to play. Another border skirmish ended with a dive by Holland which would have made an Italian soccer striker proud, and another goal. These were the first two of a six-goal run by the Magpies, which effectively ended the contest, although Carlton managed to remain within two or three goals until late in the third quarter.

Collingwood kicked the last five goals of the game (Carlton were goalless throughout the final quarter) to run out comfortable and deserved winners. There were some promising signs for the Blues early, with the organisation of the centre square markedly better than usual. Neither side flooded, and this allowed some marking contests as well as fleet-footed movement out of defence. Carlton's ball use was rather better than usual, although as fatigue set in, Collingwood were able to exploit this deficiency in the Blues armoury. Collingwood is fortunate in the precision of its key players' kicking.

Simpson was again superb for the Blues as a running defender, who often linked up in the midfield. Scotland, apart from his enforced absence for most of the second quarter, was again very effective. Lappin, Carrazzo, Houlihan and Waite contributed for most of the afternoon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Round 19

The Old Blue Stager
Hawthorn 113 d. Carlton 90

A weird curate's egg of a performance by Carlton. The first half was as poor as anything served up this season - and there's certainly some hot competition in that category.

Then the Blues with a spirited second half hauled back much of an eight goal deficit; with about six minutes left they were within three goals, and offering unjustified hope that they might achieve a victory, which would surely have been a robbery to make a bushranger blush. In the event sanity and fairness were served, as Hawthorn steadied and kicked two of the three goals scored during the dying minutes of the match to secure a victory which their afternoon's work thoroughly merited.

If the previous week's victory over Melbourne represented a significant step forward for Carlton (in the past five seasons there have been very few Carlton wins against opposition in contention for the flag), last Sunday's first half was a shocking reversion to the mean. The eight goal margin at the long break barely did justice to the Hawks' complete dominance of the match. Hawthorn completely controlled the midfield, and there were numerous Carlton players AWOL. The match was played almost exclusively in Hawthorn's attacking half.

After half-time the Blueboys' stiffened resolve was evident, although it took a long while for this to yield significant scoreboard impact. Hawthorn had extended the lead to 55 points with the first two scores of the second half, and were still more than eight goals ahead 23 minutes into the third quarter. Carlton scored four goals (and several behinds) on either side of the three-quarter time break, while Hawthorn managed only three behinds. From that point on, it became a struggle with the question of whether the tiring Hawks could hang on. In fact each side scored three goals (without another minor at either end), to end the contest with the margin exactly as it had been at the 12 minute mark of the final quarter.

Mitchell and Crawford each had a picnic, and Franklin was an effective go-to player in the front half for the Hawks. Lappin played a lone hand for Carlton in the first half, and on a day when Murphy's law seeemed to afflict the Blues, it was no surprise to see the little veteran assisted from the field a few minutes before half-time. he returned and was still a serviceable player in the second half. Fevola was the outstanding player in the revival. He was very fortunate to have three goals to half-time, thanks to some unusually generous umpiring decisions, but he added another five in the second half to almost ensure one (minor) accomplishment for the club in 2006. He now has a stranglehold on the John Coleman medal. Whitnall, Scotland and Bannister contributed in the first half and were significant influences in the improved showing after half-time.

The Bomber

Preview of Round 19

Collingwood this week. Having watched the Adelaide v. Collingwood game on TV it is hard to judge what will happen because it was a pretty boring game apart from the closeness of the scores. The last time I saw ring-a-ring-a-rosy played was at primary school—that just about sums up the game. The Collingwood runners will worry Essendon, but if Hird can play at his best, and Lucas maintains his form Essendon is in with a chance. It is essential that Essendon get off to a good start.

Review of Round 18

Back to the real world this week. Sydney were simply too good, although Essendon started very well and if those two early “posters” had been goals it may have put a different complexion on things. However, given that Sydney is now clearly mounting a serious defence of their premiership, Essendon’s performance may not have been as bad as it looks.

Old Blue Stager checks in

Late arrivals from our Carlton reporter, better late than never!

Round 18: Carlton 80 d. Melbourne 73

This match produced an improbable Carlton victory, not just for the fact , but also for the manner in which it came about. Against a serious finals contender, Carlton seemed hopelessly mismatched. Even allowing for Melbourne missing several key players - Pickett, Davey and Johnstone a late withdrawal - they seemed to have far too much firepower for the hapless Blues.

Carlton established an early lead, which Melbourne progressively reduced, and the prized victory always seemed within their reach. They drew to within three points on two occasions, late in the third quarter and early in the last, and it seemed that they were headed for a comfortable, if not particularly impressive win. However, each time Carlton displayed uncharacteristic resolve and poise to progress to their second victory over the Dees for the season.

This was a missed opportunity for Melbourne, where they could have put some distance between themselves and a pack of putative top four contenders. In the circumstances they seemed surprisingly flat. They are obviously much better than they displayed lin this game, and perhaps this was just a reaction to a sustained run of good form.

For Carlton Walker and Thornton (who eclipsed Neitz) were outstanding. Encouragingly, this was a real team effort, in which Houlihan, Stevens, Lappin and Carrazzo were particularly effective contributors.

Round 17: Carlton 89 lost to Fremantle 107

Carlton were frankly very poor in this match, and flattered by the scoreboard. This reflected a spirited last quarter, when the Dockers rested secure in the knowledge that their week-end's work was complete. During the final quarter, Carlton scored 6 goals to 1, but this merely negated the third quarter which Freo won by a near equivalent. The half-time margin 58-36 (18 scoring shots against 11) in favour of the visitors accurately reflected the talent gap between the teams.

I think Fremantle is under-rated especially in Melbourne. Their critics emphasise the team's (regularly-displayed) fragility, but disregard their accomplished list. The Dockers' skills were much in evidence on Sunday. Although Pavlich was well-held by Thornton, Black had a picnic, ripping holes in Carlton's threadbare defence with well-timed runs, and accurate distribution to his forwards. Sandilands dominated the ruck and gave the Freo runners first use for most of the afternoon. McPharlin controlled Fevola for much of the day, and the full-forward's five goals return was an inaccurate reflection of the balance of this individual contest.

Among the Dockers' lesser lights, Murphy, Webster and Dodd were solid contributors. For Carlton Simpson and Walker were effective four quarter players, while Thornton and Scotland gave value. Koutoufides in a second half cameo gave brief glimpses of genius of his earlier career (pre-knee injury). I speculate that he was inspired by James Hird's splendid performance the previous evening, or perhaps just a recognition that his time might be drawing to a close.

Overall another punishing afternoon for Blues' supporters.

Round 16: Essendon 105 drew with Carlton 105

This was a dreadful match characterised by hopeless ineptitude by both sides, and redeemed only by the closeness of the scores throughout the afternoon. Ball use by players from both sides was abysmal and led to a multitude of turnovers. Some observers have argued that the high skill level achieved by the top sides coupled with risk averse football has reduced the spectacle of Australian football. I still think it's better to watch players from Adelaide, West Coast or Sydney execute their skills than watch Essendon, Carlton and their fellow-strugglers battle their footballing limitations.

Essendon's decline has been remarkable. Undoubtedly, they have been affected by injuries to some key players, but the loss of confidence of previously reliable players such as Johnson J. & M. and Solomon, and to a lesser extent McPhee is amazing. Hille and McVeigh are just about the only ones of their "mid-rankers" who have at least maintained their standards this year. The Bombers also appear to have a reasonable mix of young players - Stanton, Watson, Monfries for example - but their development is being hampered by the team's collective deficiencies. I suspect that they might rebound to competitive standard quite quickly.

Essendon led for much of the day, but could never quite establish the sort of break which would have put Carlton away. It did seem likely that they would win, if only by virtue of the fact that the siren had to sound at some time, and they spent most of the day in the lead. However, it has been a feature of their season that they have been unable to finish off games from winning positions, so I always felt that if the Blues "hung in", that they might snatch a barely deserved win. The margin reached eighteen points twice - midway through the third qaurter and early in the last. Another goal at either of these moments might have secured the result, but each time Carlton was able to reel them in. In the end flair player Betts contrived two goals, one from a free kick, the other from a brave mark, to achieve scoreboard equality.

Lucas, mysteriously something of a "boo boy" for Essendon supporters, was outstanding. His running, marking and kicking with a single blatant exception contrasted with almost every one else on the field. He had six goals to half-time, and although he didn't add to that tally, he continued to look threatening. The Blues were well-served by Simpson (a notable improver this season), Scotland, Houlihan and Fevola (five goals).

Round 15: Carlton 80 lost to Western Bulldogs 110

The Bulldogs are a great side to watch. Their hard-running game makes a wonderful spectacle, and they don't muck around with tempo football in the manner of Adelaide and Sydney. However, I'm sure that this comes at a cost, as the injury toll mounts, and the limits of their paper-thin squad have produced a few sub-standard performance in recent weeks.

I also think that Rodney Eade's lack of whinging is admirable (as well as being sound psychological strategy). They were below par in this match, in which Carlton tried to play them at their own running game. Inevitably, the Blues lacked familiarity with the physical demands of the strategy, and succumbed in the final quarter. However, to be level with a side as good as the Bullies at three quarter time was a worthy effort. The Bulldogs guns especially West and Johnson ripped Carlton apart in the final quarter as they drew away for what looked like a comfortable win. Simpson, Scotland, McGrath, Houlihan and Carrazzo were the Blues' best.

Round 14: Carlton 77 lost to Geelong 142

This was a woeful performance by the Blues, close to a season worst. Geelong's justifiably maligned forward line managed an impeccable 23 goals 4 behinds, which corerctly implied that there was inadequate pressure on the ball carriers from midfield, as well as too little effective defence.

Carlton had the advantage in general play during the first fifteen minutes, but hopeless conversion yielded poor returns, and the Cats quickly made them pay. The game was effectively over as a contest midway through the second quarter, but Geelong were unusually relentless, and pressed on for a comprehensive win. Simpson, McGrath, Fevola, Scotland and DeLuca made some effort to stem the tide.

Round 13: Brisbane 71 d. Carlton 56

Superficially this wasn't a bad performance by the Blues. A fifteen point loss at the Gabbatoir to the mighty Brisbane Lions would seem a fair effort by the Blues, given their current limitations. However, Brisbane are barely recognisable as the all-conquering triple premiership side of just a few years ago (though with significant numbers of that team still around) . As well scoring shots were 31-21 in the home team's favour and that offers a more reliable indicator of the way the match unfolded.

That Carlton did stay in touch for most of the night, without ever looking likely to win, was something of an achievement. The fact that the game was only put out of the Blues' reach in the final ten minutes was also a straw of comfort for supporters to clutch.The critical event of the night was the injury to Marc Murphy, Carlton's shining light of 2006. That it subsequently became clear that this was season-ending was a bitter blow. One hopes that it does not impede what had seemed like Murphy's inexorable progress towards a Rising Star award.

Best for Carlton were Blackwell (another strikingly mature youngster), Thornton, Houlihan, Simpson and Scotland.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Round 18

I go into this round one point from the lead in the tipping competition.

Melbourne are travelling well and the hitout against the Western Bulldogs showed that the Demons have got some legs and can play for four quarters.

The Bomber Preview

A difficult game this week against Sydney. The game is at night at the SCG, where Sydney are difficult to beat. There is only one way to play the SCG and that is straight down the middle—it is a very short ground but it has very wide wings where visiting teams sometimes become lost. It is imperative that the players in the centre square get their share of the ball. If Hille plays as well as he did last week, and Lucas can keep kicking goals Essendon are in with a chance.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Round 17

My selections

Collingwood to defeat Hawthorn
St Kilda to defeat Richmond
Adelaide to defeat West Coast
Essendon to deffeat Brisbane (hard to call)
Sydney to defeat Port Adelaide
Geelong to defeat North Melbourne (risky)
Fremantle to defeat Carlton
Melbourne to defeat Western Bulldogs (hard pick)

The Bomber checks in on round 16 and 17

Review of Round 17

About bloody time!!! An excellent win to Essendon over Brisbane, a team that has caused Essendon a lot of grief in recent years. One of the pleasing things is that Essendon won after being more or less level at three-quarter time—it is the first time this year that Essendon has won a game that was close at the start of the last quarter. The inclusion of James Hird clearly made an enormous difference—he is a handy lad to have around (there is no substitute for class), but equally clearly he only has one more year left in him at most. If it does nothing else the win will give the team back some confidence.

There is a weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in Adelaide this week after Adelaide’s dismal performance in Perth. West Coast certainly played very well, but the GF is played at the MCG. However, if West Coast play at their best, they will take some beating.

Report on Round 16

It is pretty clear that Essendon has forgotten how to win. They could have, and should have, won both against St Kilda and Carlton. However, “should haves” do not win games. However, the last two games have been a considerable improvement on some of the previous efforts.

Preview of Round 17

This week the opponent is Brisbane who have had their own well documented problems recently. Let us hope that this unsettles them. Essendon has two things going for it, they are at home and Jonathon Brown will not be playing. Brown has made an art form of returning from injury just in time to dominate against Essendon. If Essendon can continue their recent form they must have a chance of winning, but if they hit the front they need to learn how to stay there.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Round sixteen

My selections.

Adelaide over the Kangaroos (70 point margin)
West Coast over Collingwood
Brisbane Lions over Hawthorn
St Kilda over Port
Essendon over Carlton
Sydney Swans over Richmond
Western Bulldogs over Geelong
Melbourne over Fremantle

The Bomber checks in

Round 15

Another disappointing result. Essendon certainly had their chances but just fell short. However, it was a marked improvement

Round 16

The wooden spoon clash against Carlton. These matches are always fiercely contested no matter where they are on the ladder. If Essendon kicks straight it will win.

Round Fifteen

My selections for this round.

Melbourne to defeat Richmond (25 point margin)
St Kilda to defeat Essendon
Adelaide to defeat Hawthorn
Brisbane to defeat North Melbourne
Eagles to defeat the Swans
Geelong to defeat Port
Western Bulldogs to defeat Carlton
Freo to defeat Collingwood

Monday, July 10, 2006

Round Fourteen


Fremantle over Essendon
Geelong over Carlton
Melbourne over Brisbane
Adelaide over Sydney
West Coast over Hawthorn
Richmond over Port
Collingwood over St Kilda
Western Bulldogs over Kangaroos

Arden Fast finds his tongue: Hat trick Roos collar the Dogs

After a self imposed exile from footy blog land, what with soccer... ohyeah and a slew of bad losses by the Rooboys I couldn't really bringmyself to write about my beloved blue and whites. Even mediocre winsover the Blue Boys and the Bummers hardly inspired.

But yesterday's snuffing of Rocket Eade's flying canines was something to write home about. With Brady Rawlings sticking like glue to Scotty West and Shannon "What's he like?" Watt stopping the tricolours matchwinner Brad Johnsonand wiping that bloody smile off his dial it was bound to be a good day.

Even my favourite big kid Hamish 'H' McIntosh got in the act with the first goal... Even the downside of Arch's maybe career ending shoulderinjury and Thommo's report couldn't dampen my joy. We owe the Dogs quitea few games over the past few years. The only compensation for not being in the title race is to be able to rain on others parades.

Look outBrisbane!

Round Thirteen

My selections

Kangaroos over Essendon
Melbourne over Port
Brisbane over Carlton
Adelaide over Geelong
West Coast over Bulldogs
St Kilda over Hawthorn
Sydney over Fremantle
Collingwood over Richmond

The Bomber preview

After the trivia of the World Cup (the game against Italy summed up all that is wrong with soccer, i.e. dodgy refereeing, players who roll around in agony if anyone goes near them and too much hinging on a single goal) we are back to the real thing this week. This is a must win game for Essendon if they wish to avoid the wooden spoon—North Melbourne are not playing much better than Essendon, although their last ten minutes against Carlton was impressive. If Essendon can kick straight for a change then they are in with a chance. However, I have stopped predicting Essendon victories.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Round twelve

My picks

Adelaide over St Kilda
Fremantle over Geelong
West Coast over Port
Richmond over Hawthorn
Kangaroos over Carlton
Brisbane over Western Bulldogs
Melbourne over Essendon

The Old Blue Stager Report

Kangaroos 121 d Carlton 102

This was another semi-respectable Carlton performance, although that judgement is tempered by the poor quality of the opposition. 22 of the 33 goals in the match were scored at the Coventry (southern) end - a surprising imbalance in the controlled environment at Telstra Dome. Statistically this explains Carlton's coming up short, since they managed only 3 of the 11 goals at the "non-scoring" end.

The Kangaroos dominated the 2nd and 4th quarters, Carlton were on top in the 1st and 3rd. However their first quarter dominance in general play was not reflected on the scoreboard, which again provided a simple (simplistic?) explanation for the match result. Encouragement for the Blues was provided by sound efforts from Betts and Blackwell who looked comfortable as a second-gamer in the midfield. De Luca - for whom the football adjective much-maligned was invented - had a splendid third quarter, marking strongly and kicking three goals. Stevens produced his best game for many weeks, and Murphy was characteristically good, strong at the contest and reliably sound with his disposal. Fevola had a particularly interesting evening, kicking 5 goals, offering a couple of bids for mark of the year, and damaging his knee in falling from one aerial contest. Fev is leading the goal-kicking, and has serious prospects of winning the Coleman Medal.

The Kangaroos who have also endured a forgettable season, gradually found confidence, as they were able to exploit Carlton's wayward disposal. A high proportion of their goals began with a turn-over in Carlton's forward 50. In summary, a winnable game, both in prospect, and as it ran its course, which the Blues let go. The Kangaroos proved steadier and had a few more of their experienced players deliver on the night.

Round eleven

My selections

Geelong over Essendon
Kangaroos over Richmond
Sydney over St Kilda
Port over Hawthorn
West Coast over Carlton
Adelaide over Brisbane
Western Bulldogs over Freo
Melbourne over Collingwood

The Old Blue Stager Report

West Coast 111 d. Carlton 101(alternatively West Coast defeated Carlton by three minutes).

Carlton produced their best performance for a season and a half, succumbing right at the death. While in part the way the game unfolded was attributable to a notably lacklustre performance for much of the afternoon by the Eagles, it was particularly heartening for the long-suffering Blues' fans.

Make no mistake, West Coast are a very good side. Even in the absence of the glittering talent of Chris Judd, they have multiple stars - Cousins, Embley, Hunter, Cox, Kerr, Wirrpanda, Chick et. al. - they are very well-coached, and they are virtually unbeatable at Subiaco.However, Carlton matched them for three and a half quarters - and outplayed them for much of that time.

The striking feature of the Carlton performance was that players who are regarded as woeful kicks found targets, marks were held, opponents were run down. This improvement in skills emphasised the importance of confidence. Particularly pleasing was the fact that players who've been given up as hopeless were solid contributors. Wiggins, Russell, McGrath, Betts all gave reason to hope that they might make the grade. While these players were significant contributors, Murphy, Whitnall, Scotland, Thornton, Fevola and Walker were the dominant influence on the match.

Unfortunately, fatigue told in the finish, and a five goal lead half-way through the final quarter was insufficient to withstand West Coast's superb finish.There was plenty of lamentation among the half-empty glass section of the Blues' faithful - How could they lose from 44 points up?, What were "they" doing up in the coaches' box?

Your correspondent prefers to accentuate the positive. There was evidence on display that beating Carlton might once again mean something, some time in the future.