A storming finish by the Carlton Blues was not enough to claim victory against Melbourne, as the Demons regained their lead with minutes remaining to hold on by six points.
Both teams entered the match with records of 2-1, with a victory making all the difference on the short road to the Grand Final.
Though Melbourne held a 19-point lead at the final change, Carlton came storming back to level scores late in the contest, but a defensive lapse allowed Richelle Cranston to kick the go-ahead goal.
Without one of the competition’s standouts and rebound 50 leader Brianna Davey, the Blues had to absorb plenty of pressure in the early going.
Once again, it was Karen Paxman and Elise O’Dea leading the charge for the Demons, a trio with Daisy Pearce that have had no issues racking up disposals in the first three rounds.
Sarah Hosking and Tilly Lucas-Rodd led the way out of defence for Carlton, but forward thrusts were often ventures met with no players in the forward 50, with the Blues pushing their entire forward line up to defend.
As a result, the first quarter was a pure scrap, and probably the scrappiest term of footy we’ve seen in the AFLW thus far.
Thankfully, it was followed up by a gorgeous 15 minutes of football with plenty of goals and highlights.
Melbourne wasted little time putting together a beautiful chain of footy, however, as a ball delivered to the forward pocket was worked through multiple hands into the grasp of O’Dea, taking on defenders to straighten and kick the game’s first goal.
Kate Shierlaw provided the quick reply, though lucky to get a free kick for holding the ball against Paxman.
Nevertheless, Sheirlaw converted the oppurtunity, and Darcy Vescio gave the Blues the lead a minute later when she was held without the football, continuing her trend of kicking a goal in every game.
The competition’s in-form forward in Alyssa Mifsud fired back, picking up clearly at ground level and throwing a boot at the ball that went through the big sticks from a tight angle.
Carlton almost got the quick reply again, though Nat Exon hit the post for the second time in the contest, but it showed how good the Blues look when Madeline Keryk and the Blues move the ball quickly through the middle.
There was no tactical setup that could prevent O’Dea from infleuncing the contest, though, who delivered an expert kick to the chest of Shelley Scott who converted her set shot opportunity from straight in front.
Pearce put her foot down in the second term, racking up touches in the forward 50 and making it impossible for Carlton to clear with confidence.
The Blues were damaged by a lack of accountability early in the second half, leaving Mifsud alone in the forward pocket to straighten up and split the big sticks.
Bianca Jakobsson let the Demons off the hook by hitting the post from an easy chance created by a 50m penalty, and Deanna Berry made them pay by converting from a 50m penalty the other way to push the lead out to three goals.
Carlton was given a glimmer of hope when Isabella Ayre marked in a pack to kick the first goal of the final quarter, reducing the margin to 13 points.
It was game on when Bianca Jakobsson marked and converted in similar fashion to Ayre.
In the blink of an eye, scores where tied when captain Lauren Arnell made her first meaningful impact, centering a ball to Ayre to kick a third consecutive Blues goal from similar situations and tie the game.
With pressure building around contests, too many Carlton defenders got sucked into a contest on Melbourne’s half-forward line, leaving Richelle Cranston alone in her forward goal square to kick the simplest of goals.
It proved to be the difference maker, as Melbourne held on to win by one straight kick.
Though the famed Melbourne midfield trio had another massive game, the contributors around the game are what got the job done.
Lily Mithen and Jasmine Grierson, though overshadowed, have grown in all four of their contests in 2017, making that feared midfield even harder to deal with.
The Blues have found out that two quarters of footy is not enough to win in this competition, losing to Adelaide last week and now dropping points to fall into the middle of the pack.
Melbourne: 0.1, 3.2, 5.6, 6.6 (42)
Carlton: 0.1, 2.3, 2.5, 5.6 (36)
Melbourne: Alyssa Mifsud 2, Elise O’Dea, Shelley Scott, Deanna Berry, Richelle Cranston
Carlton: Isabella Ayre 2, Kate Shierlaw, Darcy Vescio, Bianca Jakobsson
Melbourne: Daisy Pearce (28), Elise O’Dea (27), Karen Paxman (24)
Carlton: Sarah Hosking (12), Tilly Lucas-Rodd (11), Lauren Arnell (10)