Early season pace-setters Sydney United were comprehensively beaten by four goals to nil by Carlton at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday. There was scarcely a winner in a red shirt all day when considering the various personal contests. Carlton was head and shoulders the better side - the emphatic scoreline neither flattering to Carlton, nor unfair to United.
Indeed, for large parts of the game - especially in the second-half - Carlton looked to be more on a training run than an NSL contest, such was the imbalance of the contest. Carlton defenders David McPherson and Craig Deans at various times felt underengaged enough in the performance of their normal duties to want to take on some additional work closer to goal.
Carlton coach Stuart Munro even had the luxury of removing Olyroo livewire and leading scorer Archie Thompson midway through the second period, such was Carlton's ascendancy. By then, Thompson had made the game safe with a double before half-time.
"I'm still trying to get (all members of my squad) game time, because we don't have anything other to play other then the (NSL) team," said Munro after the game.
Thompson's energetic play had caused havoc in the United back-line, as he, together with speedsters Ange Motsiopoulos and a slightly withdrawn Andrew Packer were given instructions to exploit what Munro calculated to be a slower United defence.
"I thought Ange did very well today," said Munro. "We intentionally went with the two quick strikers (Motsiopoulos and Thompson) because we felt that (Sydney United) has three good defenders, but the smaller more nimble strikers would cause them problems. It worked quite well for us."
"We did what I asked them to do," said Munro. "When you're up against a team that's full of confidence - winning games - you've got to match them early. And when you get the ball, you've got to keep it."
Sydney United were even denied the minor comfort of a consolation goal. Veteran striker Francis Awaratife had earnt a penalty late in the match, being brought down in the box, but his effort from the spot was saved by Carton's goalkeeper - stand-in captain Dean Anastasiadis.
Sydney United's best moments had come and gone within the first fifteen minutes.
Veteran striker Francis Awaritife, now with his fourth NSL side, found Aytek Genc on his left whose first-time shot needed an excellent diving save from Dean Anastasiadis.
Just a minute later United's Solomon Islands import Commins Megapi won through and into a shooting position only for Anastasiadis to block.
But from then on the tide turned, and rarely were Carlton under threat again.
Archie Thompson opened the scoring with a swift turn and shot which went in off Brett Hughes' far post. The move started deep in Carlton's back-line when Craig Deans took the ball off Awaritefe and played it to Robert Middleby who in turn sent a through-ball to Andrew Packer. Packer sped by Richard Plesa who had moved across to intercept, sending in a cross which Thompson tucked away.
Carlton's second came from the penalty spot with just two minutes remaining of the first half. Simon Colosimo had been body-checked by defender Vince Savoca on his way goalwards. Savoca was cautioned, and Thomspon stepped up to score without difficulty.
Hunter reshuffled his formation at the break, withdrawing Mesapi in what proved to be a vain attempt at getting a grip on the game.
Ange Motsiopoulos extended the lead with his debut goal for the club ten minutes into the second half, much to his and his team-mates' obvious delight. But the credit belongs equally to Packer who wriggled by three ineffective Sydney United challenges to reach the edge of the penalty-area. Packer himself was shaping to shoot, only to find the eager Motsiopoulos had got in first.
And it was Simon Colosimo, otherwise with a solid but quiet game, who hammered home the fourth and final goal late in the game with a thunderbolt shot from 30 metres which passed Hughes before he could react.
"We knew what we would be up against," said a rueful Sydney United coach Alan Hunter after the game, tasting defeat for the first time in charge. "Carlton is a good team. We had the best of the first ten minutes - there were two very good chances we didn't put away. We got outplayed."
There's a chance that United's squad will have a tough time on the training ground this week if Hunter's post-match comments are any guide. "We didn't work as hard as we had in the last three weeks. We had two or three players who were obviously reading their press, and I've told them that. We'll get back to hard work this week for (next week's game against) Marconi."
United striker Zlatko Arambasic will be fighting to get fit for that derby match, after being substituted with a hamstring injury on the hour.