Morton’s League Cup Semi Final 2016 – Where Are They Now?
by Dean McKinnon.
22nd October 2016. Hampden Park. I would love to offer a personal insight into the emotion of standing in our national stadium watching Jim Duffy lead his Morton team out in our first semi-final appearance for thirty-five years, but unfortunately I was not in attendance. I watched from afar on a stream, having accepted an invitation to work abroad a few months earlier. Staring ruefully at the TV in a living room in Moscow was not how I envisioned watching one of Morton’s biggest achievements of the 21st century. My conflicting emotions and reflective self-pity wouldn’t make for a particularly enjoyable article however, so I digress.
The League Cup campaign did not begin in a fashion befitting its culmination. After a lacklustre 0-0 draw against Albion Rovers in Coatbridge, Morton gained a bonus point after winning 4-3 on penalties. Clyde were the next opponents, providing stubborn opposition in a laboured 1-0 win at Cappielow. Travelling down the coast towards Ayrshire to take on old foes Kilmarnock, Morton fans could be forgiven for lacking a great deal of confidence. Gary Oliver was the squad’s only fit striker and the performances against Albion Rovers and Clyde were uninspiring. Hardly a set of circumstances that pointed towards upsetting the odds against a Premiership team featuring former Scotland international Kris Boyd.
Step forward Jai Quitongo. An explosive and direct young winger who had been released from the youth systems of both Hamilton and Aberdeen. Jim Duffy utilised Quitongo as a striker, and he certainly grasped the opportunity with both hands. He assisted Gary Oliver in opening the scoring after eight minutes before sealing the win with his first ever senior goal, marking the occasion with a celebration that would become forever associated with Quitongo. The jubilant away support sung the name of their new goal hero, along with the modified version of ‘Oh We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside’ historically associated with this fixture. Is this the last we’ll hear of Jai Quitongo in this cup run? Absolutely not. A week later, goals from Celtic loanee Jamie Lindsay and the aforementioned Quitongo sealed a routine win against Berwick Rangers. Morton progressed through to the Second Round as group winners.
Photo - The Scotsman.
Were The Ton suitably rewarded for finishing top of their group? Not particularly. A trip to Lanarkshire to take on the Premiership’s perennial underdogs Hamilton Academical was outcome of the draw. A familiar and revered face opened the scoring, but they were not wearing the ‘unique’ chequered yellow and blue kit donned by the away side. Sir Douglas of Imrie dispatched a penalty in very similar fashion to the goal that secured his place in the heart of all Morton fans. However, anyone who had watched Jim Duffy’s Morton side win League One at their first time of asking was well aware that this squad had character in abundance and would not let this setback disrupt them. Ross Forbes’ wand of a left foot drew the Championship side level with an exquisite free kick from the edge of the box. Forbes would then turn provider, with a chipped ball forward into the channel provided Quitongo with something to chase. He outmuscled the Hamilton defence and unleased a right footed half volley that flew into the top corner.
Another thumping finish. Another backflip celebration. Another Premiership team humbled.
Photo - SNS
More familiar opponents, and a more familiar venue, were the reward for Morton’s endeavours, being drawn at home to Championship counterparts Dundee United in the Quarter Finals. Ross Forbes used his head to flick the ball into the same right-hand channel as the winning goal of the previous round. Jai Quitongo smashed the ball high into the roof of the Wee Dublin End net. That man Ross Forbes would once again display his magic, with a whipped delivery into the near post for Tam O’Ware to nod in to double the advantage of the home side. A second half goal for the Taysiders was not enough to spark a comeback and it was confirmed - The Ton were heading to Hampden for the first time in thirty-five years.
Photo - BBC.
Aberdeen started the match the better of the two sides, hitting the woodwork and having a succession of corners. Morton had their backs to the wall but defended admirably to keep the score level heading towards half time. Jai Quitongo was put clear through on goal in the dying minutes of the first half. The underdogs scoring on the brink of half time would make Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager and former Morton star, tear up his half time notes. The stuff of dreams for all those who’d travelled up the M8 to watch their team. The Morton support held their collective breath and hoped that their young talent would show composure in the most high-profile match of his career to date.
It was not to be. Quitongo’s attempt on goal was matched by goalkeeper Joe Lewis and the sides went in level at the interval. Aberdeen turned the screw after the break and got their just rewards. Despite a valiant performance by their Championship counterparts, a fractionally offside goal from Aberdeen’s talisman Adam Rooney and a clincher from Kenny McLean sealed The Dons’ place in the showpiece final.
As shown throughout this cup run, and the season as a whole in which The Ton finished fourth in the Championship, Jim Duffy had built a Morton side with character, ability and charm. The lopsided 4-4-1-1 was organised and capable of shutting teams out, with a dynamic and hardworking midfield providing the service to the intelligent Gary Oliver and explosive Jai Quitongo.
Photo - SNS
Where did these players go after this season? Did this young squad go on to fulfil it’s potential? Let’s have a look.
McNeil came to Morton with a reputation that no goalkeeper wants. The old cliché of ‘he has a howler in him’ seemed to be the consensus of the Edinburgh born goalkeeper who started his senior career at his boyhood club of Hibs. Despite this reputation he served as a dependable shot-stopper at the Tail of the Bank. Upon leaving Morton, McNeil travelled to join Hong Kong Premier League side R&F, where he currently serves as a goalkeeper coach.
There was somewhat of a disconnect during ‘Mickey’ Doyle’s two season stay at Cappielow. Fans recognised how hard working and likable the full back was, but his lack of an end product was a frustration in a lop-sided 4-4-1-1 system that expected a lot from Doyle’s limited attacking prowess. Doyle spent a season with Queen of the South before signing for Falkirk after their relegation to League One in 2019. He then followed the former Morton manager Ray McKinnon to League Two Queens Park. He was one of four former Morton players to feature against The Ton this season in the 1-0 win over the Glasgow side in the group stage of the League Cup.
Despite O’Ware coming through the ranks at Morton, serving the club for seven years, the relationship between the player and the Morton faithful is fractious to say the least. O’Ware dropped the bombshell that he would be leaving Morton to seek a ‘new challenge’ ahead of the last game of the 2017/18 season, for which he was subsequently dropped. He also issued a plea to St Mirren boss Jack Ross to sign him and stated that he would have no issues crossing the Renfrewshire divide.
St Mirren’s interest did not materialise and the defender found himself signing for Partick Thistle. He suffered a serious knee injury in August 2018 that kept him out for the rest of the 2018/19 season. Despite scoring a late winner against Morton in the 2019/20 season, his side were relegated to League One. He was named Head Coach of the Troon FC Development Team in August 2020.
Gunning signed for Morton with the intention of putting himself in the shop window, and rebuilding his reputation, following his acrimonious departure from Dundee United for picking the ball up mid-match to have an injury treated. He was imperious during his short time at Cappielow and is fondly remembered by the Morton support. After twelve appearances he left Morton in the January transfer window in 2017 to sign for Grimsby Town. Despite rumours of his return, and manager David Hopkin confirming that an enquiry was made, Gunning signed for Gloucester City in the National League North, his fifteenth club.
Mark joined Morton having been released from St Mirren Boys Club. After breaking into the first team in the 2013/14 relegation season, he established himself the following season in League One as an attacking full-back, comfortable with the ball at his feet and more than capable of driving past opponents. His development seemed to stall after a run of games playing in left midfield rather than as a full back.
He left Morton for ‘a new challenge’ after the 2017/18 season and signed for Falkirk. This was a somewhat questionable move given his refusal to sign for McKinnon’s Morton team, only to subsequently sign for McKinnon’s Falkirk team. Following his release from Falkirk he moved to Ireland to sign for Finns Harp in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
The versatile Northern Irishman signed for Morton having failed to make the grade at Sheffield United. Initially signing for Morton as a forward he found himself utilised at right midfield and right back throughout the course of his time in Greenock. Following the conclusion of the 2016/2017 season McDonagh signed for Sligo Rovers. He then spent two seasons at Derry City before signing for Glentoran. Earlier this season he lined up against a Motherwell side containing his former Morton teammate Ricki Lamie in the Europa League first qualifying round.
The Celtic youngster had his first taste of senior football in the Championship with Dumbarton in 2015/16 before joining Morton on a season long loan. A mainstay in this Morton side, Lindsay made forty appearances in all competitions in 2016/17 before being given the chance to play in Scotland’s top-flight with Ross County. Despite their relegation, Ross County signed Lindsay permanently where he helped them gain promotion back to the Premiership. He would go on to sign for Rotherham United in the summer of 2019 and went on to win promotion to the Championship. It was obvious to all inside Cappielow that Jamie Lindsay had the ability to play at a higher level. I think it’s a safe assertion that all Morton fans wish Lindsay well and will keenly monitor his development in the English Championship.
A late addition to the 2016/17 squad, the former Rangers youth player signed for The Ton as a free agent in September 2016 following a poor start in the Championship alongside Gavin Gunning. He was a standout performer in 2016/17 and subsequently accepted a one-year extension for the following season. After Ray McKinnon’s appointment in the Cappielow hotseat, he made it known to Murdoch that he would not be offered a contract, much to the dismay of the Morton support. He then signed for Championship rivals Ayr United, where he remains to this day. He started against The Ton in the pulsating 3-2 comeback win earlier on in the season.
Morton were the tenth club Oyenuga played for, including spells north of the border with St Johnstone, Dundee United and Cowdenbeath. The former Spurs youth player spent one season at Cappielow before signing for Chelmsford City. He has since went on to have spells at Dartford, Haringey Borough, Welling United, Margate, Leatherhead and most recently Brentwood Town.
It may sound blunt, but Quitongo’s career trajectory has been nowhere near as meteoric as the opening few paragraphs of this article would suggest. Following Quitongo being linked with a number of clubs, Morton rejected an offer from Doncaster Rovers for the youngster. He had surgery on a knee injury in January 2017 before deciding to leave Morton following the conclusion of the 2017/18 season. He was subsequently signed by Partick Thistle before being released by the Jags in March 2019 following off-field allegations.
He then signed a four-year deal with Iranian side Machine Sazi. He made eight appearances then left the club in late 2019. In January 2020 he signed a short-term deal with Dumbarton, playing under former Morton manager Jim Duffy. He now joins another former Morton manager, Ray McKinnon, at Queens Park in League Two.
Gary Oliver, nephew of former Morton manager Jim Duffy, started his career at Hearts, making twenty-five first team appearances over three seasons. He then spent a year on loan at Stenhousemuir in League One before signing a permanent deal with Queen of the South in 2015/16. He then signed for Morton in 2016, staying at the club for three seasons. Following his release, he returned to the Doonhamers in 2019/20, before returning to Greenock this summer to play under David Hopkin.
Nesbitt joined the club on a season long loan from Celtic following a loan spell with Partick Thistle. After the 2016/17 season’s conclusion he moved to MK Dons to work under his fellow Scot Robbie Neilson. Following Neilson being sacked, Nesbitt found himself out of favour at MK Dons. He was then reunited with his former gaffer in January 2019, signing for Neilson’s new side Dundee United on a short-term deal until the end of the 2019 season. Nesbitt rejoined The Ton ahead of the 2019/20 season and is currently still playing for the club.
Tiffoney was released from St Mirren’s youth system and was picked up by Morton. He spent six months on loan at Clyde before breaking into The Ton’s first team. The pacey forward’s performances earned him a move to Premiership outfit Livingston in the summer of 2018. He was immediately loaned back to former club Morton and was later sent on loan to Ayr United. At the time of writing, he has made ten appearances for Livingston this season.
Lee Kilday rose through the ranks at Hamilton before joining Jim Duffy in attempting to win League One and return Morton to the second tier. He initially rotated between right back and centre back before securing a place in the centre of defence. He was selected as Morton’s club captain in August 2016. Hamilton would offer an undisclosed fee in an attempt to lure Kilday back to Lanarkshire, but he remained at The Ton. Kilday didn’t make a single appearance for the club in 2017/18 having suffered a serious ankle injury. In March 2018, in an effort to aid his recovery, Kilday was loaned out to League One club Airdrieonians. Kilday’s 157 appearances for The Ton had us all dreaming of a team of Lee Kildays.
In a now familiar career move for players released by Morton, Kilday signed for Dumfries side Queen of the South for the 2019/20 season. Leaving the Doonhamers after a single season, he joined the long list of former Morton players signed for Ray McKinnon’s Queens Park side.
Shotts born defender Lamie was signed by Jim Duffy as a raw left sided defender. Morton stalwart Peter Weatherson had managed to provoke the younger into a red card in a match between Morton and Airdire. Lamie had a challenging start to his Morton career as he attempted to cut his teeth playing at left back in League One. He worked hard, endeared himself to the Morton support and developed into a solid defender equally capable playing in central defence or left back. Lamie scored his first ever senior goal at St Mirren Park as a ten-man Morton team snatched a late equaliser on Hogmanay 2016.
Lamie’s career has went from strength to strength since leaving the club. He signed for Premiership side Livingston in the summer of 2018 and spent two seasons with The Lions. The versatility he perfected under the tutelage of Jim Duffy saw his feature as a centre back, left back and left wing back as Livingston successfully established themselves as a top-flight club. His performances earned him a move to Motherwell, where he featured in all three rounds of The Well’s Europa League campaign this season.
Released from Celtic at the age of 19 despite being captain of their U19 side, Tidser sought football abroad and moved to Swedish side Ostersunds. Morton manager James Grady signed the midfielder in January 2009 and he made his debut away at Raith Rovers. He was a player who oozed composure and class and quickly endeared himself to the Morton support. He was an integral part of the 2012/13 squad who challenged for the First Division title, scoring 11 goals in all competitions that season.
In June 2013 a £50,000 offer from Rotherham United was accepted by Morton chairman Douglas Rae and the player moved south of the border to join the League One club. He would play for Rotherham at Cappielow a week later in a friendly, where he received a standing ovation from the home support. Rotherham would finish second in League One that season, although Tidser was very much a squad player.
Tidser spent the first half of the 2014/15 season on loan at Oldham Athletic, but only made five appearances. He was released by Rotherham and a deal was struck to return to the Tail of the Bank. The jubilation that Tidser was ‘coming home’ in January 2015 was short lived when it transpired that, as he had already played for two clubs in the 2014/15 season, could not play for the rest of the season. Incompetence on this scale has become all too familiar at Cappielow, with then Chief Executive Gillian Donaldson being the focal point of fans’ frustrations.
Over the next three seasons Tidser would make 70 appearances in all competitions. It could certainly be argued that throughout Duffy’s spell in the dugout at Cappielow that he did not get as much as he could out of Michael Tidser. The faults of Ray McKinnon have been (justifiably) very well covered by Morton fans, but it cannot be denied that he got the absolute best out of the midfielder. Somewhere between an advanced playmaker and a ‘number ten’, Tidser thrived in a midfield five and was back to his best. The same praise could not be offered to McKinnon’s successor, Jonathan Johansson.
Then came the news no Morton fan wanted to believe. The story broke that Tidser had signed a pre-contract agreement with Falkirk. Ray McKinnon’s Falkirk. Bear in mind, this was not simply a player who’d arrived at Cappielow on the ever-spinning merry-go-round that is lower league Scottish football and hung around for a season. This was Michael Tidser. A player Morton plucked from the scrapheap after an unsuccessful spell abroad and being released from Celtic. A player who would have surely went on to finish his career at Cappielow with a testimonial and the everlasting admiration of every single Morton supporter. Despite his admirable performances for the rest of the season, playing his part in Morton’s push to fifth place, there was a very sour note to his departure for newly relegated Falkirk.
His reuniting with Ray McKinnon was not a successful one. Falkirk struggled in the third tier and Tidser featured infrequently for The Bairns, making only nine league appearances in the 2019-20 season. For a man of his abilities, Tidser is now playing his football in a rather remedial environment, captaining Lowland League side Kelty Hearts under the tutelage of former Scotland international Barry Ferguson.
You could be forgiven for looking at Jon Scullion and dismissing the idea of a career in football. A technically gifted but physically challenged striker who signed for Morton having failed to make the grade at St Mirren. He run amok in the Development League but struggled to make the jump to senior level. Thirty-four appearances across three seasons, with four goals to show for his efforts, was not enough to convince manager Jim Duffy to retain Scullion. He was released in the summer of 2017. Following an unsuccessful trial at Lowland League side East Kilbride, he signed for Kilburnie Ladeside in the West of Scotland Premier Division. He is currently still with the Junior side.
Gaston signed for Morton from Albion Rovers, who signed him three years previously from Baillieston U21s. A goalkeeper with a large frame yet remarkable agility and shot stopping abilities, Gaston went on to make over two hundred appearances between the sticks for Morton. Forced out of the team in the relegation season in 2013/14, he regained his place in the side the following season and was pivotal in Morton winning League One. Current Morton manager David Hopkin released him in the summer of 2019, a decision that was questioned by the Morton support.
Gaston would remain in the second tier after signing with Arbroath. He helped the Angus side secure their Championship status last season, finishing in an impressive fifth place. Gaston is still held in high regards by the Morton support and appeared against The Ton last weekend in the 0-0 draw with Arbroath.
A no nonsense centre back throughout his playing career, in which he had a three-year stint at Cappielow, Jim Duffy first ventured into management aged just thirty. Taking over the reigns at Falkirk, he then went on to have spells in the dugout at Dundee, Brechin City and Clyde. He also served in the backroom staff at Hearts and Norwich City.
With Kenny Sheils sacked, and a relegation and ten goal humiliation still casting a sizeable shadow over the club, Duffy took charge at the Tail of the Bank. His remit was simple – win League One at the first time of asking. He went about building a young, industrious squad. A League One campaign, the hallmark of which was late comebacks from Morton, fittingly came down to the wire. In scenes remanent of that magical day in 2003, Morton had to overcome Peterhead at Cappielow to be crowned champions. A 3-1 win for the home side sealed Morton’s tenth league title. Club captain Peter MacDonald lifted the trophy along with Douglas Rae, the last piece of silverware the former chairman would see the club win.
Duffy would remain in the dugout for three Championship campaigns, finishing fifth, fourth and seventh respectively. Following two late season slumps in successive seasons, Duffy was relieved of his duties following the 2017/18 season. The sacking of another former Morton player, Stevie Aitken, saw Duffy take over the managerial position at Dumbarton. Last season, Duffy guided the club to a comfortable mid-table finish.
Photo - gmfc.net.
Massive thanks to Chris McNulty (@chrismcnulty75) for his help in sourcing these photos!