CARLTON has delivered Melbourne's second defeat of the year and strengthened its finals hopes at the same time in a crucial result at Alice Springs' Traeger Park.
The Blues did little more than hang in the contest in the opening half but dominated from the restart, keeping the Demons goalless to post a 6.4 (40) to 3.6 (24) triumph.
They climbed into second spot in Conference B in the process, after Collingwood briefly leapfrogged them courtesy of its impressive victory over Brisbane earlier on Saturday.
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Melbourne is also still in the top three, but the loss was a body blow with two rounds to go, particularly knowing how agonisingly short it has fallen in previous seasons.
Reigning NAB AFLW Rising Star Madison Prespakis was outstanding and arguably the best player afield, gathering 23 disposals and kicking a 40m goal on the run early in the final term.
Prespakis and the creative Chloe Dalton were excellent even when their teammates weren't but Carlton came to life once the likes of Lucy McEvoy, Tayla Harris, Georgia Gee and Grace Egan rose to the occasion.
Natalie Plane, Gabriella Pound and Vaomua Laloifi were other strong performers as the Blues improved to a 5-1 record.
The Demons should have been further in front than eight points at half-time, amassing double as many inside 50s (15-8) and uncontested possessions (73-36).
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Karen Paxman won a match-high 27 possessions and Kate Hore exploded out of the blocks with nine of her 19 touches by quarter-time, including a goal of the year contender.
Melbourne will also rue a number of wasted opportunities in front of goal in the third quarter, with none of Aliesha Newman, Tegan Cunningham, Maddison Gay and Elise O'Dea capitalising.
Hooray for Hore
AFLW fans are used to watching Kate Hore highlights but she took her electrifying play to another level in the opening term.
Not only was Hore a strong contributor but she is now the clubhouse leader for goal of the year.
She received the Sherrin on the wing, took three bounces in charging inside 50, chipped a pass to Niamh McEvoy that fell short, kept running, got the ball back and snapped a terrific goal.
Hore deservedly came to the bench for a rest afterwards.
Waiting for scans
Demon Sarah Lampard suffered an anterior cruciate ligament rupture to her right knee two years ago and could face another extended stint on the sidelines.
The 22-year-old collided with Carlton forward Darcy Vescio in the third term and instantly grabbed for her left knee once she hit the ground.
The game was stopped as Lampard was stretchered from Traeger Park.
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Harris proves her ground-level wares
Star Blue Tayla Harris is supposed to be "useless" once the ball hits the deck, or at least that was Collingwood defender Stacey Livingstone's take.
There might need to be a rethink on that theory after Harris' effort on Saturday night.
Harris took only two marks – one of them preceding a set-shot goal – but had a hand in plays that led to majors for Brooke Walker, Georgia Gee and Grace Egan after winning ground-balls.
There was also her huge, and fair, hit on Maddie Gay in the third term that left the Demon down for a short period.
This was a physical contest all night in Alice Springs' heat, with a number of players going down during the match.
Kerryn Harrington had her jaw inspected in the first quarter, not long before Aliesha Newman's head crashed into the ground in a tackle from Madison Prespakis.
Both players returned but Harrington was bleeding from the nose after another altercation later in the night.
Melbourne's Sinead Goldrick also left the game in the second term with a 'corkie' after copping an accidental knee.
"I was absolutely cooked when I got to the end of that and I'm just glad I put it through in the end." – Demons forward Kate Hore on her goal of the year contender
"It was a very hard hitout but it was great I got to see some of my cousins who live here and that made (the win) even more special … we won a really important game and it just shows how hard we worked over the pre-season together and it really (comes out) in games like this." – Carlton midfielder Madison Prespakis
Carlton returns to the familiar confines of Ikon Park next Saturday to take on newcomer West Coast, while Melbourne's season could be on the line against the high-flying Dockers at Fremantle Oval a day later.
MELBOURNE 2.3 3.3 3.5 3.6 (24)
CARLTON 1.1 2.1 4.1 6.4 (40)
Melbourne: Hore, Perkins, Scott
Carlton: Walker 2, Gee, Harris, Egan, Prespakis
Melbourne: Paxman, Hore, Gay, Sherriff, O'Dea, Pearce
Carlton: Prespakis, Plane, Dalton, McEvoy, Harris, Laloifi
Melbourne: Lampard (left knee), Goldrick (leg)
Umpires: Bailes, Porter, Toner