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Five of the Best… League Cup Classics


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Samuel Motherwell.jpg

(Photo- BBC Sport)

Five of the Best… League Cup Classics

By Russell Gordon

With a large Morton support heading to Govan on Saturday to face arguably (very arguably) the competition’s most successful club, Morton’s record in Scotland’s second most important cup competition isn’t a great one. There have however, been some highlights along the way.

The incredible win at Celtic Park ten years ago would of course take pride of place at the top of that pile, but having written an individual article about that famous night in the build up to our visit to Celtic Park last season, I’ve decided to look elsewhere for some misty-eyed recollections this time around.

Morton 1-0 Hibernian (14/10/63) Semi-Final Replay, Ibrox Stadium

Whilst Morton have never (yet) won the League Cup, the closest they came was in the historic 1963-64 campaign, when Hal’s Heroes swept aside everything the old Division Two had to offer, winning promotion in record breaking time, whilst also embarking on a memorable League Cup run. Morton negotiated the group stage in some style, disposing of Clyde, Dumbarton and Ayr United with minimum fuss before Motherwell were dispatched in a two-legged quarter final.

Ibrox was to host the first game of the tie, and in front of an excellent 47,000 crowd, it was the underdogs who took an early lead through Bobby Adamson, before Hibs’ Neil Martin levelled in the twentieth minute.

A bruising affair saw both the Hibs’ goal scorer and Morton’s Allan McGraw injured in those days before substitutes as the clubs had to settle for a replay a week later at the same venue.

In front of a more modest 36,000 the following week, Morton looked to have taken the lead through Allan McGraw, but his goal was bizarrely disallowed, as it had come from a corner that had apparently been taken from outside the arc. I can’t find the identity of the referee, listed, and won’t speculate as to whether or not he was David Munro’s grandad.

But Morton, facing a Hibs side that included their new £30,000 signing, Scotland international Pat Quinn, weren’t to be denied, as a late McGraw penalty (ah, it couldn’t have been Munro’s grandad) sent them through, sparking wild celebrations from the Morton support, who could look forward to a final against Rangers the following month.

Less said about the final, the better.

Hibernain Semi 1963.jpg

Morton's jubilant players celebrate on the Ibrox pitch as Allan McGraw's penalty winner took them to their first, and to date only ever League Cup Final.

(Photo-gmfc.net)

Morton 3-7 Aberdeen (3/9/96) Third Round, Cappielow Park.

Perhaps a strange game to pick for those who weren’t in attendance given the final score, but this was a game in which Morton certainly weren’t resoundingly beaten, as a side who had narrowly missed out on promotion a few months previous, and the cup holders served up an absolute thriller in front of a raucous 6324 Cappielow crowd.

The game had looked to be heading towards a routine away win, with goals early in each half from our good pal Billy Dodds giving the Dons a commanding lead as they looked to ease their way through to a repeat of the previous season’s final against Dundee.

Morton however, burst into the life in the final eleven minutes, having been given a lifeline when hapless Aberdeen defender John Inglis upended Paddy Flannery in the box. Reliable as ever, Derek Lilley stroked his spot kick home with aplomb. With the visitors rattled, Morton immediately levelled the affair through John Anderson and sent the home into raptures. Things were to get even better for Morton, as with six minutes remaining, Lilley added his second to put us into a 3-2 lead. There wasn’t to be a happy ending though, as Aberdeen’s Joe Miller decided to go down dramatically in the box under an innocuous challenge from Peter Cormack in the final minute of the ninety and of course, referee Mike McCurry pointed to the spot, allowing Dodds to complete his hat trick from the spot and send the tie into extra time.

The extra thirty minutes was to prove a painful experience for the home support, as Dean Windass took up where Dodds left off against a clearly deflated Morton side, banging in four in extra time to send Morton out the cup and keep their stranglehold on the trophy for a few weeks at least, before Dundee gained revenge for their final defeat by knocking the Dons out in the following round.

Cormack Aberdeen 1996.jpg

Peter Cormack was desperately unfortunate to concede a last minute penalty in the 1996 Cappielow Cracker against Aberdeen.

(Photo-SPFL)

Hibernian 3-4 Morton (26/8/08) Third Round, Easter Road.

Never mind the recent World Cup Final when Messi and Mbappe produced a masterclass, never mind Paolo Rossi and Italy stunning the best team never to win the World Cup in 1982, Morton’s visit to Easter Road in 2008 was, without question, the greatest game of football ever played, and the evening the sport peaked.

Another extra time thriller, another two-goal lead squandered, another late penalty equaliser, BUT a happy ending.

Hibs had won the competition a year before, but weren’t the force they once were with stars such as Riordan, O’Connor, Brown and Whittaker having moved onto pastures new. They were however, expected to take care of a Morton side who had only survived in the First Division the previous season by the skin of their teeth, and had a difficult start to their league campaign.

But Davie Irons’ Morton started well, and just before the half hour, took a shock lead, Iain Russell netting from a tight angle past future ‘Ton keeper Andy McNeil, with Hibs defender Ian Murray struggling in vain to get back as the ball trickled into the Hibs net. What a shame.

McNeil was to go off injured at half time to be replaced by debutant David Grof, who had an evening to forget. On 66 minutes, Morton doubled their lead- Stevie Masterton, a renowned set piece taker, curled one of the best free kicks you’re ever likely to see into the postage stamp with the Hungarian clutching at fresh air and the Morton support wildly celebrating as they sensed an unlikely upset.

It’s never plain sailing being a Morton fan though, and sure enough, as we headed into the final ten minutes, Hibs burst into life. Joe Keenan reduced the arrears before Dean Shiels looked to have completed the great escape in the 85th minute. Extra time it was. Perhaps those of us old enough to remember that dramatic night against Aberdeen at Cappielow would have feared the worst, as it took until only 36 seconds into the first period of extra time for the Edinburgh side to take the lead for the first time in the tie. As “Two nil, and you f*cked it up” rained down on the Morton support from Easter Road’s old east stand, one could have been forgiven for thinking Morton had blown a massive opportunity.

However, as the game progressed without Hibs adding to their lead, the hosts got more nervous, and began to retreat further and further back as Morton sought an equaliser. It was to come five minutes from time, as Shiels turned from hero to villain for the hosts, charging down a goal-bound Allan Jenkins effort with his arm, and prompting referee Iain Brines to point to the spot without hesitation.

Iain Russell was entrusted with the task of doubling his tally for the evening, and with the collective hearts in the mouths of the Morton fans, made no mistake in burying his penalty past the Grof to level the tie.

With penalties looming, Morton in truth, got a massive break. Erik Paartalu appeared to foul Hibs’ Chris Hogg outside the box, but incredibly, Brines awarded the free kick Morton’s way, much to the consternation of Hibs boss Mixu Paatelainen. Peter Weatherson fired the resultant free kick towards goal and Grof made an absolute meal of dealing with the ball which fell fortuitously to ex-Hibee Ryan Harding, who bundled the ball into the hosts net, and in doing so, bundled his former employer out of the competition for another year, and sent the large visiting support into delirium. What a fantastic night.

Morton's winning goal at Easter Road resulted in wild scenes behind David Grof's goal as they snatched a sensational victory from the jaws of defeat in 2008.

(Video- allystephen2000)

Morton 3-2 Motherwell (22/9/15) Third Round, Cappielow Park.

Let’s be honest, Morton fans don’t enjoy cup ties against Motherwell. Regular foes in cup competitions, whilst Motherwell’s margin of victory in recent years has been much narrower than in previous ones when we’ve been hit for three, four and six, and even then these scorelines have flattered us, it’s nice to at least have one exception to the rule.

Both clubs had enjoyed dramatic ends to the previous season- Morton taking the League One title, whilst Motherwell survived in the Premiership by obliterating Rangers 6-1 in the play-off final. But whilst Morton were making a decent fist of adapting to their new environment, the Steelmen hadn’t really kicked on from that emphatic play-off success, and they travelled to Greenock with trepidation, and manager Ian Baraclough’s job on the line.

Their fears were to be proven worthwhile, as Welsh striker Alex Samuel latched onto at Peter MacDonald through ball to fire high into the net to give the hosts a deserved lead. Peaso was denied in the second half as his rasping drive hit the outside of Connor Ripley’s near post. There’s no show without punch though, and it took until three minutes into stoppage time for the Premiership side to break Morton’s hearts- this time it was Australian international Scott MacDonald who spared Motherwell’s blushes, for a short time at least.

Morton took the game to their opponents in extra time, and in the hundredth minute, Samuel got onto the end of a fine Denny Johnstone cross to notch his second of the game from six yards. This provoked an angry reaction from the visiting support, who, clearly incensed with their team’s performance took to the field to remonstrate with their players and management team. Fortunately, a police presence travelling back from an earlier kick off at Ibrox was on hand to provide support to the stretched police and security staff on duty at the game and play was eventually allowed to resume. The stop in play did nothing to help the visitors though, as the quite imperious Ross Forbes fed Bobby Barr, whose cross from the left was met by Michael Tidser, who gave Morton a 3-1 lead.

A late Louis Moult goal made for a nervy finish, but this time around Morton held on for a magnificent, if incredibly rare, victory, sending Motherwell out the cup and Baraclough to the Job Centre.

Tidser Samuel Motherwell.jpg

Morton goal scorers Michael Tidser and Alex Samuel celebrate dumping Premiership Motherwell in 2015.

(Photo- BBC Sport)

Morton 2-1 Dundee United (20/9/16) Quarter Final, Cappielow Park.

This tie was probably the exception of the five I’ve discussed, as Morton shared a division with their opponents on the night. But whilst Dundee United had been freshly relegated from the Premiership, they boasted a formidable record in the cups- this was their fifteen consecutive domestic quarter final, and they were expected to challenge Hibernian for promotion to Scotland’s top flight. Jim Duffy’s Morton though, were finding their feet in the Championship after a slow start to the season, and having brought in ex-United outcast Gavin Gunning, there was a bit of needle between the Irish centre back and the fans of his former club. There was also the carrot of a trip to Hampden for Morton should they get past Raymond McKinnon’s Terrors.

It took until the 24th minute for Morton to open the scoring, and route one was very much the fashion in which it was engineered. A commanding Gunning clearance was headed on by Ross Forbes into the path of Jai Quitongo, who buried a pile driving effort into the roof of Cammy Bell’s net.

And it was only five minutes later that the ‘Ton doubled their lead, through a very familiar route. Ross Forbes’ wand of a left foot was no secret in Scottish football at this stage, but the United defence could do nothing as his exquisite near-post corner was headed in home by Thomas O’Ware. Whilst the Morton players and fans celebrated, Gunning enjoyed his own wee party with the visiting support, much to the chagrin of the United fans.

Ten minutes into the second half, United’s Nick van der Velden reduced the deficit after a lapse in concentration in Morton’s normally watertight defence. Alas though, there was to be no last-minute equaliser this time around, as Morton held on for a semi final meeting with Aberdeen at the National Stadium, but the final minute pain was to befall Forbes, whose late booking ruled him out of the Hampden showdown, and cost Morton their finest attacking outlet for the tie.

Of course, that semi final was to end in a disappointing, but far from humiliating 0-2 defeat by the Dons, but didn’t take away from a fine cup run.

Quitongo Dundee United.jpg

A youthful-loooking Jai Quitongo celebrates his opening goal with Mikey Doyle as Morton book a Semi Final appearance at the expense of Dundee United in 2016.

(Photo- BBC Sport)

One wonders when the next tie we can look back so fondly on will be. There would be few complaints from us all if it was Saturday coming.

 

Bibliography

Scottish League Cup Memories 1963/64 - Greenock Morton FC (gmfc.net)

MotS: Morton vs Aberdeen 1996/97 - Aberdeen Mad (aberdeen-mad.co.uk)

Greenock Morton: Hibernian 3 - 4 Morton (greenockmortonfc.blogspot.com)

Scottish League Cup Semi Final Match Programme 22/10/16, Aberdeen V Morton

Morton History, Players, Managers, Results & Information (fitbastats.com)

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