Carlton hangs on for memorable 12-point win over Western Bulldogs to remain unbeaten

Sam Walsh has had an immediate impact on return from injury as Carlton franked their AFL early-season form with a hard-fought 12-point win over the Western Bulldogs.

All-Australian midfielder Walsh had 34 disposals as a key cog in a red-hot engine room alongside George Hewett and Matthew Kennedy (32 each).

But it was bandaged warrior Patrick Cripps (35) who was best afield, the Blues’ captain continuing his sizzling start to the year in Thursday night’s clash.

Cripps racked up 11 of the midfield quartet’s 29 clearances and kicked two goals despite copping a nasty cut above his right eye in an accidental head clash with teammate Charlie Curnow.

Key forward Curnow also caused the Bulldogs headaches with five goals as fellow tall Harry McKay booted four in the 16.6 (102) to 13.12 (90).

The Blues’ second-straight win came despite coach Michael Voss having limited impact because of COVID-19 protocols, forced to temporarily hand the reins to senior assistant Ash Hansen and dial into the coaches’ box from a remote location.

The same rules also prevented gun recruit Adam Cerra and teammate Jack Martin from taking their places in the side.

It didn’t matter as Carlton picked up where they left off from a final-quarter demolition of Richmond in round one.

Walsh returned with a swollen right ankle just 37 days after syndesmosis surgery and injected himself into the contest early with 10 first-quarter disposals.

Cripps registered five clearances and a goal in the same period as the Blues’ midfielders grabbed the ascendancy.

Mitch Hannan took a spectacular two-grab mark with a ride on Mitch McGovern but it was one of few times when the Dogs got on top in the first half, trailing by 31 points at the main break.

Both sides were down a defender by half-time when the Bulldogs lost Hayden Crozier to illness and Carlton’s Oscar McDonald suffered a back injury.

The Dogs fought back, trimming the margin to 12 points with four of the first five goals of the second half.

Hannan’s brilliant snap from the boundary line provided a spark in the final term but a series of missed shots at goal cost the Dogs in the dying stages.

Key forward Aaron Naughton was troubled by a lower leg issue for most of the second half and spent the final few minutes on the bench.

Jack Macrae (34 disposals) and Adam Treloar (31) worked tirelessly for the Bulldogs and Lachie Hunter (18) was important in the third-quarter surge.

Tom Liberatore, Anthony Scott and Hannan kicked two goals each, while former number one draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan kicked 1.2 from six disposals.

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