Dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna fears Carlton’s terrific 2022 could be undone by ill-timed personnel issues, which has left Michael Voss’ team vulnerable at the most crucial stage of the season.
Michael Voss’ Blues are clinging to seventh spot on the ladder after a 33-point loss to Brisbane on Sunday – their fourth loss from their past six games.
They’ve been inside the top eight at the end of every round so far 1 this season, but are now in serious danger of missing out on finals with St Kilda and, particularly, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs still well placed to squeeze into the top eight. The last team to be in finals places every round except the last was Carlton in 1977.
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The Blues need to win one more game to guarantee a finals spot. But they would have upset one of Melbourne (3rd) or Collingwood (4th) over the next fortnight, while the Bulldogs and Tigers have ‘easier’ final games.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s First CrackMontagna said the Blues now had their “work cut out to play finals.”
It comes amid player availability issues in the most important part of the ground for Carlton, with George Hewett (back) and Matt Kennedy (fractured jaw) sidelined due to injury, while skipper Patrick Cripps could also miss matches due to a bump on Lion Cal Ah Chee that will attract MRO scrutiny.
The Blues have been renowned for their ruthless nature at the coalface this year, but Montagna on Sunday night pointed out the Blues had lost the hardball get count in the past two games against Brisbane and Adelaide by -20 and -15 respectively.
“They’re starting to get beaten up around the footy … and without that big three in the midfield, they look vulnerable to me,” Montagna told First Crack.
“They don’t look like the same side at the start of the year that was brutal, physical, aggressive, that was just bullying and beating up on teams through the midfield.
“The ‘Voss gloss’ might’ve worn off. They’ve got their work cut out now and they’re going to have to do some soul searching to try and play finals – and it might undo what has been such a terrific season up until the last sort of four or five weeks.”
Montagna also pointed out the Blues had only been in front for 26 per cent of game time in their matches against top-eight teams this year, while dual premiership Kangaroo David King highlighted the Blues are 10-1 this year when they’ve won the clearance count by at least +5 but 3-6 when that count has been +4 or less.
“They’re clearance-based and contest-based – and they lose their best commodity,” King said.
In a must-win game, the Lions stunned the Blues in the first term with a fierce tackling display, laying 20 tackles to 13. That prompted dominance at clearance (+11), inside 50s (+13) and on the scoreboard (+ 29).
King said the Lions’ pressure was awesome, making Carlton look “jittery” and “panicky with the ball”.
The Kangaroos great put the heat on Blues backman Adam Saad, who finished with 24 disposals and 10 interceptions, but was arguably beaten by direct Brisbane opponent Charlie Cameron, who kicked two telling goals.
King pointed to a sloppy kick-in from Saad that led to a turnover and Dayne Zorko goal during the first term.
“What is that? I mean come on. This is high-level stakes,” he said.
“That’s not AFL standard, just waltzing out like that and just trying to be a little bit arrogant again with the ball.
“He’s had a fantastic year, but his last two weeks he’s left opportunities on the floor for the opposition to take – and they have.”
Despite his club’s predicament, Voss said it must “embrace where we are at”.
“We are all about what’s in front of us. They are games to look forward to. We are playing in games that matter. This is an important phase in the development of our group,” Voss told reporters on Sunday.
“We need that exposure. We are going to the MCG next week against Melbourne, it will be a big game. The Collingwood game is being talked about already so we are getting exposure to these games and there can only be growth off the back of it.
“Tonight, it’s a bit of a tough one (lesson) but we’ve got to bring that fresh energy and we’ve got to correct ourselves pretty quick and we’ve got to get on with it.”