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Carlton coach Michael Voss insists the Blues have not been distracted by a week of “external” criticism, coming as a season-defining swing continues against arch-rival Collingwood next Sunday.
The Blues were valiant in recovering from a 31-point deficit against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night to snare the lead for the first time in an enthralling final term. But they were unable to sustain this, and ultimately fell by 20 points.
A pre-season favourite of many to end a decade-long finals drought, they have now dropped four of their past five matches – their only win in this period was against the lowly West Coast Eagles – and they face a major fight to remain in top-eight calculations.
Jack Silvagni and Rory Lobb go to work at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.Credit: Getty Images
Club powerbrokers and past players put the club under the spotlight last week, with Voss admitting it was hard to ignore the comments said about him and the club.
“It’s hard not to, when it’s surrounding you, but for us, the answer is not looking external, it’s looking internal. What we get to be able to control is what we do and how we train, and how we turn up and how we get better and how we execute in those moments,” he said.
“For anything to change, that’s what we have to get after. For us, it’s eyes down, it’s eyes in, and we have to go again, so we have an extended break this week to go to work on our game.
“I don’t tend to look too far ahead, but the game in front of us is, obviously, Collingwood, so we have got to get ourselves ready for that. They have got their own threats we have got to manage. We have got some things we need to get after as a priority.”
Star midfielder Sam Walsh, having had an interrupted campaign because of back surgery, was at his best against the Bulldogs, while unsung pair Matthew Cottrell and small forward Matthew Owies (three goals) played a key role. Skipper Patrick Cripps struggled in the first half, when he did not have a clearance, but responded after the main break when the Blues were able to play a more creative brand of football.
Lacking imagination, they were badly beaten in uncontested possession before half-time, but ran more in waves in the third, with rebounding half-back Adam Saad central to this.
Charlie Curnow managed only two goals, while McKay was goalless, well held by former teammate Liam Jones. Held to only 10 points in the first half, their lowest score to that point of the game in the Voss era, the Blues watched as McKay, Cripps and Jesse Motlop all butchered set-shot snaps at goal, when conventional set shots would almost certainly have sufficed.
Voss said his team had work to do, but said he would not outlaw set-shot snaps.
“That’s up for the coaches to work through, and for the individuals to work through. If you choose that as your method, become good at it,” he said.
“That’s all you ask, making sure they finish off their work, whether that’s lining straight up, or snaps on goals, clearly we have to make sure we get a little bit better at it.”
This contributed to a general malaise when the ball either entered inside 50, or the Blues had possession, but failed to convert.
“The good thing was that boys aimed up a bit and kept believing in the process that we needed to be able to execute in the second half and the scoreboard started to tick over, and you get that energy and a little bit of reward and nourishment you need from the scoreboard ticking over,” Voss said.
“For large parts of that second half we put ourselves in a great position, but we weren’t able to close out the game exactly like we wanted to. You hit the front with six minutes to go in the game, we weren’t able to finish off those last six minutes, so we will go back and review that strongly. I thought we walked out of the game with more moments that look like us. We have been working hard over the course of the last month to get that, but it still shows that we have got a bit of work to do.”
Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was delighted how his side had regained momentum in the final term.
“We have been challenged a few times over the course of the year and early in the year we weren’t responding too well. It’s another one where we have been able to come again. Really pleasing, some of the guys who haven’t played a lot of footy really stood up and helped with momentum late, doing different things, and tweaking little things here and there,” Beveridge said.
“We all thought we lost a little bit of composure in that third quarter. We felt when we got the ball in our hands or a ground ball that wasn’t really contested, we were just a little bit caught up in what was happening in the environment of the game.”
Beveridge said Arthur Jones had been “critical to proceedings” in the final term, booting two goals, while he also praised the slick Bailey Smith and hardnut extractor Tom Liberatore, who thrived despite the absence of the injured Adam Treloar.
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