Greenock Morton jumped up to fourth in the Ladbrokes Championship after defeating Dunfermline Athletic at Cappielow for the second time this term.
The hosts were unchanged for this encounter after their impressive win against Dundee United at Tannadice a week prior. Jai Quitongo missed out through tonsillitis while former Pars midfielder Ross Forbes also sat out this fixture as he continues his rehabilitation from injury. Robert Thomson was also missing for Jiim Duffy’s men.
On the other hand, Allan Johnston had plenty options to choose from. Kallum Higginbotham and Dean Shiels dropped out of the squad from the one which took to the field 8 days earlier against St Mirren. They were replaced by Joe Cardle and Tom Beadling. Michael Paton swapped places with James Craigen, with Paton having to make do with a seat on the bench. New loan signings James Vincent and Daniel Armstrong were also included as part of the 18-man squad that travelled to Greenock.
It was an even beginning to the match, with the Ton having the first meaningful attempts on goal. Gary Harkins tried his luck from a free-kick on the left, 16 yards out, but Lee Robinson got down low to his near-post to turn the ball away from danger. Luca Gasparotto was the next to have a go, from Harkins’ in-swinging corner, but the Canadian defenders’ header deflected behind for another set-piece opportunity.
Gary Oliver was next to try his luck but his effort lacked precision as it landed straight into the arms of Robinson, on this occasion. Then, the visitors had their opening effort of the game; Cardle delivered from the left but Beadling couldn’t convert his header from close-range following the corner.
However, the newly-signed Sunderland player wasn’t to be denied for long. Midway into the first-half, Jason Talbot was afforded too much space down the left, where he delivered low and hard for Beadling to stride onto before slotting the ball coolly past Derek Gaston in the home goal to put Johnston’s men 1-0 ahead.
Both sides were trying hard, without many obvious goal-scoring opportunities following Beadling’s strike. Thomas O’Ware was fortunate not to head into his own net as the Morton captain deflected a delivery from the left towards his own goal, with Gaston scampering back onto his line where he was able to clutch the ball underneath his own crossbar.
This would prove to be a vital interception as Duffy’s hosts equalised with 10 minutes to go until half-time. Harkins’ deep delivery from a free-kick was nodded down at the back post; Oliver would tee up Michael Tidser on the right-hand edge of the area who found the bottom corner with great precision: the winger’s side-footed effort was controlled and squirmed its way into the net despite the best efforts of Robinson.
Dunfermline thought they’d retaken the lead again just minutes later as Nicky Clark’s effort found the top-corner, but the ex-Rangers striker was denied by the offside flag. Next, it was Scott Tiffoney who stole possession in the middle of the field before rifling in a long-range strike which Robinson turned behind for another corner.
This time, it was Tidser to deliver and Harkins was the man who was cross with himself as his header was off-target. As Morton ended the half strongly, they had another effort at goal but Andy Murdoch’s header glanced wide of Robinson’s right-hand post as Gavin Duncan’s whistle ended the first period.
The opening opportunity of the final period fell to Clark who met Craigen’s corner well but his header from point-blank range was kept out by Gaston, with the ex-Albion Rovers shot-stopper denying the Pars’ top scorer.
Craigen would then try his luck himself, but, the former Falkirk midfielder was unable to keep his shot down from the edge of the area. Then, Gasparotto peeled to the back-post to head Harkins’ corner towards goal, but, the keeper stooped low to tip it behind.
From the resulting delivery from Tidser, a header came in, inside a packed penalty area, which was cleared off the line as the game hung in the balance. Beadling was next to try his luck from 18-yards but his shot was well blocked out as the 22-year-old was denied a further goal on his debut.
Clark headed narrowly wide of target from the following corner as Dunfermline ramped up the pressure. Oliver then tried his luck with Robinson saving well, at the other end. The former Hearts attacker then received a new partner up front, in Bob McHugh, as Michael Tidser was replaced on the right. Frank Ross moved across to that side while Tiffoney now occupied the left-midfield role as Duffy looked for some fresh impetus in the final third.
Clark got a header on target from a Cardle cross with 15 minutes to go but the striker was once again denied by Gaston. Then, an unorthodox effort saw the hosts almost take lead through O’Ware after good play back Jack Iredale down the left, however, once again, Robinson was alert to the danger to deny his former club.
Either side could win it as the game entered it’s closing stages. Ross had a left-footed effort curl into the diving arms of Robinson who flung himself to the right to deny the Ton. Then, at the other end, Clark and McManus linked up well to feed Craigen but the midfielder lacked composure as he snatched at the opportunity which harmlessly went over in the end.
Beadling had the final chance for the away side but his long-distanced strike was well-held by Gaston as the game looked to be heading for a point apiece. However, drama was to occur at the other end seconds later.
For a third time in 4 matches this campaign, Morton have won the game in the final few minutes; this time, it was McHigh who chased down the long ball. After stealing in ahead of Dunfermline captain Callum Morris, the striker drove towards the area.
Crazily, Robinson charged from his goal despite Morris’ burst of pace putting him in control of the situation; the Sunderland-born shot-stopper couldn’t get out of the way as he bumped into Morris, knocking both to the ground, which allowed McHugh to slide the ball into the area for Oliver to slam home into the unguarded net for a winning goal which would leave the Pars players frustrated again.
Speaking after the match, winning manager Jim Duffy exclaimed:
“They [Dunfermline] were the better team in the first-half, there is no doubt about that: we hung on in there, to be honest with you. We scored a great goal through Michael Tidser but I don’t think we actually played…Dunfermline had a real strangle-hold of the game. In the second-half, we were a wee bit more aggressive in our play and we tried to take the game towards Dunfermline; the game could’ve swung either way. They had a few great chances on the break and Allan [Johnston – Dunfermline manager] will be disappointed with that, that they didn’t capitalise on it.
We had two or three good opportunities, too, but Lee Robinson made some good saves, whilst we had a few cleared off the line too, so it looked as though it’d be a draw. To be honest with you, if it had ended up a draw, I wouldn’t have been too disappointed as I didn’t think we played that well, but, we have nicked the win – and there has been a few games this season where we have drawn when I felt we should have won – so, it is a bit fortuitous that we got the three points, but, in this division, you have got to take them.”
On the contrast, Pars gaffer Allan Johnston felt his side should have won the game themselves.
“Too many times this year, against Morton especially, we have been caught with the sucker-punch. The two goals were poor, from our point of view: we know how dangerous Morton are from set-pieces and we know that they get the ball forward with a lot of pace. We got caught out with a ball in-behind, so, we are disappointed with the goals we lost. I couldn’t fault the players for the great effort they put in as we created chances in really good areas; we need to finish them off, as, we cannot afford to be scoring three goals every match to win a game of football.
The one [Nicky Clark’s disallowed goal] in the first half, Nicky is three-yards on-side. I have just seen it on the video – it is a great finish and it [the decision to give offside] changes the game. He was well on-side, I don’t know what the official has seen there. It was a really poor decision from his point of view, because it was clearly a goal. These are the decisions that change games: I felt, even at 1-0, we were comfortable and then we let them back in the game with the free-kick. It is maybe a bit naïve [of us] sometimes that we get caught with basic errors and individual mistakes; given that we felt that we were the better team, it is probably frustrating again. We have got to pick ourselves up as there are a lot of big games coming up.”
FULL-TIME: Greenock Morton 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic
1. Derek Gaston
6. Michael Doyle
19. Luca Gasparotto
4. Thomas O’Ware (Captain)
26. Jack Iredale
12. Michael Tidser (Bob McHugh 71′)
3. Andy Murdoch
14. Gary Harkins
25. Frank Ross
15. Scott Tiffoney
7. Gary Oliver
20. Conor Brennan (GK)
5. Ricki Lamie
16. Lewis Strapp
17. Mark Russell
21. Ruaridh Langan
36. Darren Hynes
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
4. Jean-Yves M’Voto
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
14. Jason Talbot
28. James Craigen
31. Tom Beadling
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle
9. Declan McManus
10. Nicky Clark
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
6. Lee Ashcroft
12. Daniel Armstrong
15. Michael Paton
16. Andy Ryan
17. Fraser Aird
26. James Vincent
Referee: Gavin Duncan