Melbourne were given a wake-up call about what to expect in the AFLW finals as they capped the end of the home-and-away season with a tense one-point win over Carlton.
The Demons struggled to get their overlap and free-flowing style operating at anywhere near previous levels and were ultimately lucky to sneak home 5.4 (34) to 5.3 (33) at Casey Fields.
With the Blues trailing by just two points, experienced forward Darcy Vescio had a chance to snatch an upset victory with a free kick deep in the forward pocket with 35 seconds left on the game clock.
But the kick from 25m on a tight angle drifted across the goal and the ball was bundled across the line for a behind.
Such was the threat of Carlton’s surge that Melbourne sent experienced forward Daisy Pearce to the backline as an extra to help out when against the breeze in the second and fourth quarters.
Pearce’s skills and poise, particularly in the frantic final minutes, helped save the game.
After contributing two goals in the first half, her work down back was pivotal. She even took the kick-out with only seconds remaining and found a teammate as the final siren blew.
“Yes, it wasn’t always on our terms, but we found a way to win. Heading into the finals, we’re going to play a lot of close games like that, so it was good practise,” Pearce said.
“We’re hungry to keep improving, our goals this year were to master our own roles and game style.
“Obviously, the stakes go up (in the finals), but nothing really changes in terms of what we’re trying to achieve and we’re confident if we nail that, we can compete with the best.”
Melbourne were never allowed to settle with Carlton’s relentless pressure on the ball carrier and at stoppages giving them a superior tackle count.
But the Demons found a way to hold onto a slender lead despite kicking only one goal in the defence-dominated second half.
Gun Melbourne forward Tayla Harris had a quiet night in her first game against former side and was kept goalless.
It was left to teenage forward Alyssa Bannan to come to the Demons’ rescue with three goals in the first half that ultimately proved enough.
The Blues, on a three-game winning streak, were left to ponder what might have been after the late season rally left them just short of the top six and a finals berth.
The committed Blues answered coach Daniel Harford’s decree to make the normally free-running Demons earn every possession and it took the home side 11 minutes to finally scrounge a behind to open the scoring.
The Blues didn’t score in the opening quarter but they absorbed enormous pressure from a lopsided inside 50 count and then grew in confidence with better reward from the midfield contests late in the first half.