Fremantle coach Mark Harvey says his players were taught a midfield lesson by Carlton on Saturday, with his team dominated at stoppages despite the return of star ruckman Aaron Sandilands.

Sandilands played just his second game in 11 weeks after suffering a toe injury in round nine, and Harvey said he got everything he expected out of his ruckman, who finished with 15 disposals, 24 hit-outs and two late goals after a slow start.

However, his presence wasn’t enough to stop Carlton’s rampant on-ballers – led by the superb Chris Judd – from effectively ending Fremantle’s finals chances.

Harvey questioned his players’ intent early in the game and their disposal efficiency throughout in a loss that leaves Fremantle outside the top eight and with little hope of breaking back in.

“They (Carlton) just seemed to have three or four better midfielders at any one given time they could put in there. They taught us a lesson.” Harvey said on Saturday, with his team losing the clearances 43-25.

“Early it was a lack of intent, but as the game wore on we were better. But then it was probably class and polish in the end.

“Your ability to be able to hit targets or make the right decision is ultimately why you’re an AFL footballer. Now if your judgment or your inability to be able to do that is not there, then you’re going to compromise the team.

“I think we’ve got too many guys in the side at the moment that are playing catch-up with their lack of playing, which doesn’t help things.”

Sandilands had just one possession in the first quarter as Fremantle fell 17 points behind, but he worked his way into the game and will be better for the run.

He made his return wearing specially ordered American football boots and had his troublesome toe heavily iced in the rooms post-match.

“He did as much as you would expect for the period of time he was out there,” Harvey said. “I thought he was quite good actually.

“He started taking a few marks inside the forward 50 and kicked a couple of late goals.”

Harvey said his team, which fell 57 points behind early in the fourth quarter, was flattered by the final margin, with Carlton kicking a wasteful 16.19 (115).

The coach declared key midfielder David Mundy, who has missed seven matches with a leg injury, was certain to return against North Melbourne next Saturday night in a match the coach said was a must-win.

He denied the team’s season was over, and his message to the fans was “hold on”.

“The players are fully aware of the situation that we’re in and they know, even today, what was at stake,” Harvey said. “We play the Kangaroos, who are coming off a bye, so maybe that will be in our favour.

“We have to make our own luck in three games and we’ve got to win two of them. That mightn’t be enough.”

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