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Punts, Punishments And Pitch Invasions


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(Photo- Gary Bradley)

Punts, Punishments And Pitch Invasions

A Review of Morton’s 2021-22 Season, Part Three.

By Russell Gordon

It’s fair to say the point collected at Rugby Park was an unexpected bonus, but as we welcomed the new year, the same couldn’t be said about the visit of fellow strugglers Dunfermline Athletic for a match that was very much of the six-pointer variety. Defeat in Imrie’s debut in the Cappielow dugout would’ve seen Morton drop to the foot of the table below John Hughes’ toiling, but more fancied Fifers.

What we got was what this observer would describe as the best Cappielow performance at this level since a 4-0 hounding of St. Johnstone in October 1995. After a tepid first half hour or so, in which the Pars had marginally the better of proceedings, Gary Oliver struck his customary goal against the Fifers brilliantly from the edge of the box before a Cammy Blues howitzer and a Gavin Reilly header on the stroke of half time sent Morton in at the break with a commanding lead. If Dunfermline didn’t know what had hit them, neither did the 500 fans scattered around the main stand, who used the break to purr over a scintillating end to the half. Morton would add to their lead in the second, with the hapless Pars debutant Coll Donaldson heading Lewis Strapp’s throw into his own net 18 minutes from time before the coup de grace 7 minutes later, as substitute Robbie Muirhead delicately helped Brian McLean’s sublime pass into Owain Fon-Williams’ net to give Morton a fantastic 5-0 win and leave the park to a standing ovation from the delighted Cappielow crowd.

The following week was to be the last of limited crowds (to date), as Morton, with the addition of Hearts right back Jamie Brandon on a six-month loan, travelled to another toiling side, Ayr United. Gavin Reilly’s double was to provide the perfect tonic for those of us who were stuck at home, forced to listen to a commentary team that would make Alex Rae blush with their partisan approach. Six points out of six and onto Fir Park for a Scottish Cup tie that suddenly didn’t hold as much fear as it had done a few weeks previously.

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Gavin Reilly's double sent Morton on their way to three precious points as they followed up their Dunfermline rout with a comfortable win at Somerset Park. (Photo-Gary Bradley)

Whilst Fir Park used to be a place Morton fans hated visiting for the threat of an absolute doing, it was to be a second successive season of Scottish Cup heartbreak, rather than humiliation at the home of the Steelemen. Having lost on penalties last term, Morton took them to extra-time before taking a shock lead in the first period. However, a Kevin Van Veen penalty and a 121st minute screamer from Liam Donnelly, with penalties looming were to dash Morton’s hopes of a repeat of the 1922 win en route to lifting the trophy.

So it was back to league duty, and a Friday night date with Raith Rovers, and what was probably to prove the BBC’s most entertaining fixture that they broadcast all season. Gozie Ugwu’s opener was cancelled out before half time as a Jamie Gullan penalty and Reghan Tumilty’s goal sent the visitors in with a thoroughly undeserved half time lead. In the second half, Morton peppered Jamie MacDonald’s goal before finally getting an equaliser through super-sub, Robbie Muirhead. Whilst most observers would accept we were well worth our point, and had the game lasted much longer, we’d probably have collected all three, Rovers’ boss John McGlynn was less complimentary, bemoaning Morton’s tactic of firing long throws into their box. I’m sure his policy of total football will go down a treat as he slums it with League One minnows Falkirk next term.

 

Two more wins were to follow, a satisfying 1-0 victory courtesy of Lewis Strapp’s first-half goal at Inverness and a 2-1 win over a Queen of the South that were looking more and more likely to face the drop to League One- Reilly and Blues doing the damage this time. That win at
Inverness was to see the debut of midfielder Iain Wilson, brought in from Dunfermline, and after a slow start, he was to prove an excellent addition.

But things were going too well, something had to give. It’s Morton after all. Sure enough, Dougie Imrie was cited by the SFA in relation to historic gambling during his playing days and was hit with a ten-match touchline ban, four of which were suspended.

Dougie Stand.jpg

Dougie Imrie's touchline ban put a spanner in the works, but his impact on his new side, and in galvanising a previously fractured Morton support, was incredible. (Photo- Gary Bradley)

With Imrie’s presence on the touchline missing, it was perhaps unsurprising to see form dip slightly, with his first defeat coming in the form of a 0-1 reverse at his former side, Hamilton. However, a midweek visit to Glasgow was to provide the perfect remedy as Morton weathered a bit of a storm on the Firhill bog. With Morton having been denied a stonewall penalty in the first half, Partick looked to have taken the lead after Jack Hamilton had saved Brian Graham’s spot kick, seen the rebound hit the post and then being bundled in. As the Partick players celebrated though, the referee had other ideas and disallowed the goal for an obstruction in the melee. Partick don’t ever need anything to moan about, but their woes were compounded late on when Oisin McEntee scored the first goal of his career to send Morton up the road with three precious points and the added bonus of sticking a massive cog in the wheel of the Jags’ promotion wagon. What a shame.

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Oisin McEntee's first career goal put a massive dent in Partick's title challenge, whilst dragging Morton further clear of the drop just at a point some may have predicted them to wobble. (Photo- Gary Bradley)

We’ll gloss over the uneventful 0-0 draw with Arbroath at Cappielow and particularly the 0-3 doing at Palmerston that brought March in and move swiftly onto the return fixture with Ian McCall’s faltering failures at Cappielow. Partick were to take the lead early on through Kyle Turner, causing a minor pitch invasion from Tarquin and Felix in the Wee Dublin End. It’s fair to say that irked the Cowshed and after a series of second half chances, Gavin Reilly’s equaliser was to cause pandemonium not only on the terraces, but also on the pitch, as the crowd spilled on to share their joy with the players and goad their Maryhill counterparts. Those scenes were to be repeated ten minutes later, as Robbie Muirhead again emerged from the bench to provide the winner, and with it, a third invasion of the afternoon and the greatest photograph of all time (thanks Gary).

A series of draws in the following weeks effectively cemented Morton’s place in the Championship for another year. Iain Wilson’s first half strike looked to have secured a smash-and-grab win over a much-improved Dunfermline side before a late lapse in concentration at a corner from Kyle Jacobs allowed Lewis McCann to nip in and claim what could’ve proved to be a vital point for the home side. 1-1 Cappielow draws with the two Ayrshire sides were to follow, the latter against Kilmarnock proving far more credible, and Brian McLean could consider himself unfortunate to be punished for a handball that gave the visitors a penalty from which they equalised.

The goal of the season was to come the following week from Robbie Muirhead as Morton travelled to a notoriously difficult Stark’s Park and claimed a rare 1-0 victory. Whilst relegation was still arithmetically possible, when you considered the other fixtures between the teams around us, it was done. We were safe.

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Robbie Muirhead's goal celebrations became a staple diet of the second half of the season, with his goal of the season marked in style at Stark's Park. (Photo- Gary Bradley)

We celebrated the anniversary of the Scottish Cup win in the most Morton way possible, with a 0-1 home defeat by Hamilton before survival was rubber-stamped with, yes, you guessed it, a 0-1 home defeat. This time by Inverness.

The final game saw a severely weakened team fall 0-3 at league runners-up Arbroath on a night that few in the away crowd were particularly bothered about the football unfolding in front of them before the players, and Dougie Imrie in particular, took the applause for the remarkable turnaround in fortunes under his tutelage.

With Kilmarnock getting over the line in the end, to be replaced by Dundee and Cove and Queen’s Park replacing the relegated Queen of the South (leaving Morton as the club who has remained longer in this division than any other continuously) and Dunfermline, it’s probably fair to say that we’ll see two more competitive teams coming up, but a weaker one joining us from the Premiership. What Morton’s ambitions for next season are are clearly budget-dependent, but we’ll likely be favourites to take the drop again amongst the bookies. Whilst we’ve already seen the loss of the out-of-contract Reilly and Wilson to Queen of the South, it’s encouraging to see Dougie conducting some business of his own this early in the summer as we look to upset the odds again.

Hopefully the upward trajectory can be continued and we’ll be discussing the commissioning of Dougie’s statue in the not-too-distant future!

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