CARLTON coach Brett Ratten is adamant yesterday's workman-like 58-point win against bottom-placed Melbourne is ''a step in the right direction'', even if it took three-and-a-bit quarters to make the footprint.
An upbeat Ratten praised his team for its ability to break free of an arm wrestle against the still winless Demons, and for addressing key deficiencies that had been significant in the losses to St Kilda and Adelaide.
The Blues clawed their way back into sixth spot with their sixth win of the season, 15.17 (107) to 6.13 (49), at the MCG, but it wasn't until early in the final quarter that Ratten's men looked like a team worthy of top-four status.
Savaged for their performance during last week's 101-point loss to Sydney, Melbourne was competitive and gave the Blues a scare early, but couldn't sustain the pressure for long enough in the second half - failing to score a goal after the 12-minute mark of the third quarter, as Carlton piled on seven goals in the final term to run away with the contest.
After losing the clearances in their past five games, the Blues' on-ball brigade set the record straight yesterday, winning the count emphatically 53-25, as well as contested possessions, 175-137.
So dominant were Carlton midfielders Mitch Robinson (7 clearances), Ed Curnow (6), ruckman Robbie Warnock (6), and Chris Judd (5) at the stoppages, it prompted Melbourne coach Mark Neeld to concede his on-ballers were ''taught a lesson'' on winning the ball in close.
''That was an area we've been struggling with for the last four or five weeks and to do what we did today was really pleasing,'' Ratten said.
''It was a step in the right direction for us in that area and we got the result that we were chasing …
''Regardless of who we play, whether we play Melbourne, next week is Port [Adelaide], Geelong and then West Coast before the break, we've got to make sure that, when we are headed or it's an arm wrestle like it was today, that we are up for the fight.
''I thought we were very good in that regard today.''
Ratten put the heat on Robinson to give Carlton the grunt it needed around the contests and the 22-year-old responded in superb fashion, racking up 33 disposals (16 contested possessions), eight inside 50s and three goals.
Former Demon Brock McLean also played one of his best games in a Carlton jumper, gathering 33 possessions, while small forward Eddie Betts was lively up forward with five goals.
Neeld was pleased with his team's response to a challenging week, in which his appointment was questioned and the club was hit from all angles, and midfielder Nathan Jones admitted yesterday the build-up was draining.
Still, Neeld couldn't help but lament Melbourne's final-quarter fade-out. ''We felt we got into an arm wrestle for three quarters, but we couldn't go with Carlton in the last quarter. You can't win games of AFL footy if your arm wrestle stops a quarter short,'' he said.
The Demons were forced to substitute veteran Brad Green early in the second quarter after he copped a heavy blow to the ribs and was taken to hospital coughing up blood. He has escaped serious damage to his lungs, but Neeld said the forward was still ''very sore'' and it is unclear whether he will play this week.
Carlton midfielder Andrew Collins jarred his knee in the fourth quarter, Ratten said, and will have scans but the club is confident he has avoided major damage.
The Blues were missing at least seven of their best 22, including late withdrawals Lachie Henderson (hip) and Chris Yarran (toe).
Despite a spirited effort, the immediate future still looks bleak for the Demons, now 0-9, with challenges against in-form top-four teams Essendon and Collingwood in the next fortnight.
Neeld again urged the club's supporters to ''stay the course'', and used Richmond's emergence this year as an example of how teams can rise from seemingly hopeless situations.
''I went to that game yesterday and watched Richmond take on Hawthorn and … it certainly wasn't lost on me that [Richmond] was in exactly the same position as what we are now,'' he said. ''They stayed the course as a whole club, as a supporter base, and they kept working hard.''