Greenock Morton produced the comeback of the weekend in Scotland with a second-half performance to remember for Jim Duffy’s men.
The Morton manager made one change to his starting lineup from that of their previous match against Livingston two weeks previous, with ex-Hearts striker Gary Oliver replacing the ever-influential Jai Quitongo.
Allan Johnston also made one alteration from the side that faced Dumbarton in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship with Callum Smith, who was away with the Scotland Under-19’s squad when the Pars faced Buckie Thistle in the Irn-Bru Cup last weekend, dropping to the bench; Nicky Clark came in for him, while David Hopkirk returned to the squad after illness but Michael Paton was unavailable due to the flu.
The opening chances of the game fell to the home side and at least one should have been taken. Firstly, Michael Doyle – up in support on the right – found himself in possession at the edge of the area and after shifting the ball onto his left foot, he skied the ball of the bar from 18 yards out.
The better of the two chances fell to Andy Murdoch after a Mark Russell cross caught out the Pars backline – the ex-Rangers midfielder being unable to keep the ball down from inside the six-yard-box with it looking easier to score.
Then, Cappielow was silenced when Joe Cardle picked up the ball 25-yards out on the left, after Ross Forbes well-timed slide tackle evaded Michael Doyle and landed at the wingers feet. The on-form Dunfermline star weaved into the area before firing his left footed effort under Morton keeper Derek Gaston to send the away fans into raptures with just 9 minutes on the clock.
Doyle again had an effort from the edge of the area go over the bar before Higginbotham and then Clark had chances to double the Pars effort. Despite Duffy’s men pushing forward, they were struggling to get the ball on target with Oliver firing wide.
Allan Johnston’s men would again punish their hosts with twelve minutes until the break when Jason Talbot was fouled in the box: the full-back was kicked in the head by Ross Forbes as both players went in for a loose ball inside the area. As Talbot left the field of play for treatment to a head wound, Higginbotham stepped up and in front of the visiting supporters, fired the ball home to make it 2-0.
With Talbot’s head wounds unable to be patched up quickly enough, the Pars were forced into a change. Lewis Martin came on at left-back to replace the Englishman as the first-half wore to a close.
It was all change just two minutes into the second half, however. Callum Morris – Dunfermline’s captain – failed to clear a ball at the edge of the area, with the former Newcastle United trainee flicking the ball back towards his own goal; unbeknown to him, former Pars frontman Robert Thomson was waiting to pounce and he duly did, scoring his fourth goal of the season to give the home side an early lifeline.
From then on in, it was almost waves of attacks by the Ton, without creating too many clear cut chances. Michael Tidser produced the first real save of note for either keeper, after the former Rotherham midfielder – in his second spell with the Renfrewshire side – fired a low effort in but the Pars shot-stopper was up to it, palming the ball away to safety: despite Lewis Martin clearing the loose ball for a corner, the offside flag had been raised so a free-kick was given to the visitors.
With around 25 minutes of the match remaining Gary Harkins and Jai Quitongo entered the field of play in an inspired double substitution for the hosts. Ross Forbes and Bob McHugh made way, and while the position of the subs weren’t different, their impact was ultimately what won the match for the Ton. Callum Smith came on for Declan McManus around the same time period, too, but, the 17-year-old could not prevent a late comeback by the home team.
When Morton got a free-kick with under twenty minutes to go, it saw Harkins and Tidser stand over it; Cardle lifted his arms as he ran towards the ball and the effort by Tidser was blocked; a free-kick was awarded again by Kevin Clancy, this time 10 yards further forward, while the Dunfermline man with 9 goals to his name this season was written into the notebook of the referee for a totally different reason as a caution was produced for the 30-year-old.
As both Harkins and Tidser stood over the ball again, in the middle of the goal, it was hard to judge for keeper Murdoch on who was going to take the set-piece and where it was to end up. For Duffy’s side, it was precision perfect from their point of view as Harkins coolly lofted the ball over the wall and into the top corner to draw the game level, leaving Murdoch rooted to the spot.
David Hopkirk was brought on for Nicky Clark for the final fifteen minutes as the Pars tried to find a foot-hold back in the match and they almost restored their lead when Joe Cardle showed good footwork again inside the box but his right footed effort from the left was parried by Gaston before the Morton defence cleared.
With minutes remaining and time running out, a goal for either side would surely win it… Quitongo had the opportunity of a lifetime but passed it up as he scooped the ball over the bar in a similar position to Andy Murdoch’s early miss. He wasn’t to be denied for long, however.
As Dunfermline piled forward in added time, Ashcroft saw a header from an outswinging Higginbotham corner cleared off the line for another set-piece delivery from the right; this cross didn’t cause as much danger and as the ball was lumped clear, it turned into a great pass for Quitongo. Left isolated against Lewis Martin, he managed to reach the ball 30 yards out despite the left-back hitting the deck: despite Dunfermline’s protests, the referee saw no infringement and there was no doubting the outcome this time around. The Morton striker kept his composure to drive into the area and slot the ball past Murdoch for a late winner in dramatic fashion.
FULL TIME: Greenock Morton 3-2 Dunfermline Athletic
1. Derek Gaston
6. Michael Doyle
4. Thomas O’Ware (Captain)
5. Ricki Lamie
17. Mark Russell
3. Andy Murdoch
12. Michael Tidser
8. Ross Forbes (Gary Harkins 63′)
7. Gary Oliver (Connor McManus 83′)
11. Bob McHugh (Jai Quitongo 63′)
10. Robert Thomson
20. Ross Doohan (GK)
9. Jai Quitongo
14. Gary Harkins
15. Scott Tiffoney
18. Connor McManus
21. Ruaridh Langan
22. Ben Armour
1. Sean Murdoch
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
6. Lee Ashcroft
14. Jason Talbot (Lewis Martin 35′)
7. Kallum Higginbotham
27. Dean Shiels
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle
9. Declan McManus (Callum Smith 66′)
10. Nicky Clark (David Hopkirk 73′)
20. Cameron Gill (GK)
3. Lewis Martin
4. Jean-Yves M’Voto
12. David Hopkirk
13. Aaron Splaine
16. Andy Ryan
23. Callum Smith
Referee: Kevin Clancy