CARLTON 7.3 13.6 16.9 18.11 (119) WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 8.6 12.8 13.13 (91)
GOALS Carlton: Henderson 5, Waite 3, Scotland 2, Murphy 2, Everitt, Gibbs, Yarran, Ellard, Thomas, Bell. Western Bulldogs: Crameri 4, Stevens 2, Dahlhaus 2, Cooney, Giansiracusa, Jong, Boyd, Wallis.
BEST Carlton: Murphy, Henderson, Gibbs, Curnow, Waite, Warnock, Simpson Western Bulldogs: Griffen, Crameri, Dahlhaus, Cooney
UMPIRES Jeffery, Kamolins, Burgess.
CROWD 27,986 at Etihad Stadium.
Carlton fans would have taken a win of any sort, so cold and dark had their season become before even the first lashings of winter.
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Carlton thrash the Western Bulldogs by 28 points in a twilight Sunday match at Etihad Stadium.
But a win of dash and daring and - surely not under Mick Malthouse! - attack through the middle of the ground was really something to put a smile on blue Blue faces.
Thirteen goals to half-time - more than they had managed all game in each of four 2014 losses -betrayed a release of the shackles.
Ryan Griffen hauled his Bulldog teammates far enough back into the contest to jangle nerves, but Carlton hung tough with a victory that shrugged a groaning weight off navy blue backs.
And yet it came with a significant asterisk, as Chris Judd became arguably the highest-profile substitute in the short history of the green vest, then lasted just five minutes after taking it off before straining his right hamstring.
Ed Curnow also finished a terrific game in the sick bay, leaving the Blues with one rotation for the last 15 minutes and increasing the merit of their triumph.
"A very united team win," was how Jarrad Waite saw it, a description as transparent as his underplaying of the mode of attack, which Waite said was simply about using the "hit-up" player more often "rather than going straight down the line".
All over the ground (not only through the corridor), the Blues responded. Marc Murphy ran away from Mitch Wallis' tag to answer staunch criticism of his football under fire with a two-goal, 28-possession game of the highest quality.
"Mick put it on some of the other players to give him a bit of protection, and rightly so," was Waite's succinct summary of a true captain's game.
Waite himself bounced back from a week in the seconds with a classic modern forward's game, presenting near and far from goal, kicking three and forming a partnership with Lachie Henderson that reaped eight and was more than an undermanned Dogs defence could handle.
Dale Morris' tripping suspension hurt them, leaving Tom Williams, Michael Talia and Tom Young pushing back against a tide that kept coming.
Waite's game was instructive of the changed approach, regularly marking across half-back and channelling the ball through the middle of the ground. Invariably a teammate waited there like someone who had already seen the replay, Bryce Gibbs another notable beneficiary with a telling 29-possession game on the ball.
Robbie Warnock's work against Will Minson - particularly at the centre bounces - achieved the unlikely result of making the All-Australian follower look small. There were wins at the other end of the size scale too, notably Curnow wearing Tom Liberatore to great effect for three-and-a-half quarters, and David Ellard going forward as a tag on Bob Murphy and restricting the old Dog's artistic contributions.
The Blues began like the student with talent who hadn't opened a book all year, and realised it was time to pull the finger out. Their intent to play on instinct was clear, and fast transition married to uncompromising attack on the ball brought three first-quarter goals for Henderson and seven for his team.
As good as Carlton's versatile target man was, the leadership provided by the eccentric Waite gave the greatest hint that the Blues were on. He began by almost taking mark of the night pushing up to half-back, and charged back to familiar territory often enough to kick two first-quarter goals.
Griffen willed his team back to within a goal, aided by Adam Cooney's nous and Lin Jong's effort as the Dogs kicked three in six minutes. But Jack Macrae's stunning nomination for dribbled blunder of the year - from less than 10 metres - caused a mass explosion of supporters heads and triggered a telling Carlton surge of five unanswered goals that effectively locked up the result before the long break.
Judd started his first game of the season in a green vest and wasn't sighted until the 23rd minute of the third quarter, an arrival that prompted a bigger cheer than Koby Stevens' goal that brought the Bulldogs back to within 19 points. Five minutes later the dual Brownlow medallist clutched at the back of his leg as Stewart Crameri ran him down, and hobbled off.
"We've had a bit of stick about our fitness, but we're really confident we can run out games," Waite said of a denouement in which Heath Scotland's stumble might have been a metaphor for his ailing team, but which was duly sealed by Henderson's fifth.
The challenge now, said Waite, is to find consistency.