Free entry for Carlton's last home game of the season, where the opposition was the much admired Perth Glory, was still insufficient to draw the Carlton faithful to their new Olympic Park home on Sunday. A mere 2,887 made the trek to watch them go down for the 14th time this campaign in a 1-2 loss after Bobby Despotovski converted a controversial injury-time penalty.
Carlton's support must surely be a major issue for Carlton to address next season. It's not as if Carlton found its supporter-base slipping away as a result of the club's terrible post-Christmas run - Carlton and its supporter-base remain strangers to one-another.
And in a year following Carlton's inaugural season's Grand Final appearance, a talented playing squad and a charismatic coach with a string of achievements as a player, there was much for the follower to look forward to. But whereas last season produced a series of highs for the club, this season - and this year specifically - has been unfathomably depressing. None more so than in taking nothing from a game against Perth in which Carlton showed at least equal endeavour and determination.
Compelled by circumstance into putting into effect the league's most extravagant youth policy, Carlton's youngsters mixed it effectively with their more highly fancied opponents to the extent Perth coach Bernd Stange said of his side, "It was a poor performance. I think we can play much better. I was very angry at half-time. My team had thought it was easy (after going 1-0 up), everybody thought we could play at 50 percent. "
Despite this Stange could see the bigger picture following the win. "Today we have a big moment in the history of Perth Glory - a three-year-old club is in the Finals for the first time. We have a lot of records this year: we have scored the most goals, we have the biggest crowds, and that's why today we are very happy. We needed one point to make (our place in the Finals) sure. It's good for us and Western Australia."
Perth had taken the lead after Con Boutsianis had continued his torment of Carlton at this ground, following up his Grand Final goal for South Melbourne, with the opener after just eleven minutes. The crowd-pleasing midfielder moved onto a square ball played into his path from Robert Trajkovsky wide on the right, as Alistair Edwards and Despotovski made runs which drew Carlton's markers away.
Just before the half-hour Lupo Lapsansky's shot was blocked and ran for a corner which he took, aiming for Andrew Marth. Marth's header was palmed onto the bar and away by Tony Franken.
One of Carlton's high-school fleet, Steve Martin joyfully equalised with a powerful left foot strike from an acute angle midway through the second half after Joe Tricarico had raced onto a through ball, beating Glory goalkeeper Tony Franken to it and crashing into him at the same time. "He played with an injury today," said Carlton coach Eddie Krncevic, speaking of Martin after the game. "It shows you what a fantastic character the boy's got, and what a future he's got ahead of him. That's an example to everyone in the team about how the game should be played."
Martin may have seen an earlier goal attempt succeed after Tricarico had beaten Craig Deans, then set him free of Glory's offside trap with a flighted ball, but Martin's header went wide.
Glory played to their name sporadically during the game, the sweetest moment of all being a 68th minute move which started deep in their right-back position, moving the ball with deft one-touch passing to end up with Scott Miller's shot, diverted for a corner by the diving Dean Anastasiadis.
Carlton were worth at least a share of the spoils, and seemed to be well-placed to grab it all, deserving a penalty for a foul on David Cervinski at the corner of the penalty-area, but being awarded a free-kick at the apex instead.
And just as the crowd and the players seemed to reconcile themselves to an honourable draw, referee Matthew Breeze saw a Cervinski handball in his own penalty-area which escaped most other observers, bringing Despotovski to the spot from where he coolly netted the winner three minutes into stoppage time.
"It's the story of out season - we outplayed Perth today," said disappointed Carlton coach Eddie Krncevic after the game. "Perth came here today just looking for a point - they went away with three."