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Match Preview - Morton vs Ayr (2nd January)


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Morton v Ayr United - Match Preview 

by Russell Gordon

With a new year upon us, Morton welcome Ayr United to Cappielow Park supported by Dalrada Technology as their first footers of 2024 for a match between two sides that are only separated by a goal in the Championship table, with Morton occupying sixth place in the table and our guests hot on our heels in seventh. 

After a productive month of December, Dougie Imrie’s side will be hoping to continue their good form into January as they look to stretch their unbeaten league run to six games. 

Tickets for the match are available at the below link: 

Fanbase | Select Ticket (fanbaseclub.com) 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

Squad News 

With the transfer window now open, we could see arrivals appearing on the team sheet out of the blue, as has been a policy under Dougie Imrie to upset his opponents’ plans in the past, but the Morton boss has already stressed to the Greenock Telegraph that patience will likely be the key this month, so I wouldn’t expect any arrivals in time for the Honest Men’s visit. 

The headline news is undoubtedly the return of talismanic striker George Oakley, who has been sorely missed over the festive period after his ludicrous ordering off resulted in a two-match ban, astonishingly upheld after Morton’s quite justified appeal. With two stalemates in Oakley’s absence, it’s clear that his return will be a welcome one. 

Jai Quitongo’s stop-start season doesn’t seem to be doing much by the way of starting, with the explosive wide man still a week or so from returning after numerous setbacks, while Calum Waters is still sidelined. 

With this being another three-match week, we could see Imrie shuffle his pack somewhat, with Grant Gillespie possibly coming in for Alan Power and Steven Boyd stepping aside as Robbie Muirhead drops further back to accommodate Oakley. 

Muirhead unfortunately picked up his sixth league booking of the campaign, so has a suspension pending, but is available for the visit of Ayr with seven days grace granted from the date of the final booking in such circumstances, meaning he’ll miss Saturday’s trip to Tannadice. 

It should be noted that after the Ayr match, Morton will have completed half of their league campaign, so it will take up to twelve bookings before a suspension can be incurred, except in the case of those who have already served a suspension, who would serve a second ban after their twelfth booking. 

Therefore, only Tyler French is walking a suspension tightrope should he pick up a yellow against Ayr as he’s currently sitting on five league bookings. 

Current Connections  

There are always a few connections between the Morton and Ayr squads, perhaps due to the similar statures of the two clubs and their locality to each other, but more in recent years due to the haphazard signing policy of both clubs’ dearly departed former manager David Hopkin; although the remnants of Hopkin’s Morton duds seem to be all but gone from Somerset Park by now. 

The only remaining signing he made from Cappielow during his Ayr United tenure is club captain Sean McGinty, often a figure of fun, more often a figure of loathing to the Greenock faithful. McGinty won’t feature against his former employers however, as he serves the second game of a two-match ban having been ordered off in their 4-4 draw at big-spending Raith Rovers. 

Also missing will be former Morton favourite Andy Murdoch, whose signing at Somerset Park preceded Hopkin’s arrival, and is still considered by many (me, at least!) as the worst crime Raymond McKinnon committed against this proud club. 

When I say former Morton favourite, the emphasis is very much on how Murdoch’s popularity has waned amongst the Morton support after his disgraceful challenge on Jai Quitongo on the opening day of the season saw him do himself so much damage that he hasn’t featured since, and only saw a yellow card when Ayr really should have been reduced to ten men. 

While that challenge was perhaps the beginning of Quitongo’s injury woes for this season, there weren’t too many sympathetic calls for a speedy return for Murdoch from the Cowshed. 

There are of course, a few former Honest Men in the Morton squad. Most notable is Robbie Crawford, who started his career with his local club, enjoying eight seasons in their first team squad before moving onto Livingston and subsequently Motherwell and Partick before his career peaked with a move to Morton. 

Jack Baird enjoyed a two-year spell at Somerset Park form 2020-22, in between his two periods at Morton, and is arguably looked upon in a similar way to how the Morton fans view McGinty, although I’d struggle to find a Morton fan who would swap the two. 

Grant Gillespie had a very brief spell at Ayr in 2020, playing only five games before the season was halted by the COVID pandemic, and Morton assistant Andy Millen can of course count Ayr amongst his plethora of former clubs. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

Tale of the Tape  

It’s not been often we’ve said it over the last few seasons when discussing meetings between Morton and our friends from down the coast, but recent history is very much on Morton’s side, in spite of what has until recently been a very difficult season. 

After only collecting two points against Ayr in the four meetings last season, Morton came flying out the traps this time around with a terrific second half comeback having fallen behind to a 51st minute Oliver Pendlebury strike, after the midfielder had earlier replaced the stricken Andy Murdoch.

Robbie Crawford’s delightful curling effort from the edge of the box eleven minutes later levelled the affair before Robbie Muirhead’s penalty put the ‘Ton into the lead with fifteen minutes remaining and Steven Boyd added some gloss late on after fine work on the right from substitute Jack Bearne.

While for a variety of reasons, Morton couldn’t kick on from that opening day win, the return fixture at Somerset in late October saw only Morton’s second league success of the campaign, as a late George Oakley header extended a run of home form that made for grim reading for those of an Ayr persuasion and sparked joyous scenes of celebrations amongst the Morton players and support.

More of the same on Tuesday, please!

Opposition Analysis  

Ayr have been inconsistent in recent weeks. Only a couple of defeats since Morton’s visit in October against Inverness and Dundee United away, and decent draws at Firhill and Stark’s Park don’t paint a bad picture, but the Somerset Park faithful will be hoping to turn draws into victories, with only one home league win since August, against Airdrie a few weeks ago. 

With selection problems besetting Lee Bullen’s squad ahead of the game, I spoke to Ayr fan Marc Dunlop (@Marco_Ayr) for his thoughts on his favourites’ chances going into the match: 

“The Honest Men arrive at Cappielow on the back of two consecutive draws over the festive period. Positives will be taken from both results, especially against league leaders Raith Rovers, however, the horrid home record and inconsistent performances still haunt Lee Bullen’s side. 

Ayr’s superior away record will give the away support some encouragement as we look to get back to winning ways, but the manager will be without suspended captain Sean McGinty and his defensive partner Frankie Musonda, who joins the Zambia squad for their pre-tournament training camp in preparation for the African Cup of Nations. This leaves a shortage of defensive cover and Bullen could bring in an immediate replacement as the transfer window opens. 

Jamie Murphy comes back into contention for a start after recovering from injury and United will hope to benefit from his creative spark to claim all three points. 

An enticing match up awaits us as always and the away support should travel with optimism for the first fixture of 2024. C’mon Ayr!” 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

What’s Happening Elsewhere? 

It’s derby day in the Championship with incredibly a fifth episode of the Fife derby between play-off hopefuls Dunfermline and big-spending Raith Rovers taking place at East End Park, while Partick host rock-bottom Queen’s Park in the Glasgow version at Firhill. 

On the east coast, Dundee United will be looking to continue their fantastic record against Arbroath at Gayfield, with the Terrors enjoying an aggregate 10-0 advantage over the Red Licthies over their two previous meetings this season. 

While we couldn’t quite count Inverness’s visit to Airdrie as a derby, it would be nice to see both cancel each other out with a draw, but if the difficult weather continues, we could see a postponement, as travelling up and down the A9 in treacherous conditions appears to be a requirement that is exclusive to Morton this season, with plenty of other clubs not being asked to travel when they don’t fancy it. 

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 7am on 1st January 2024 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling. 

Morton head into the match as favourites at even money, with Ayr priced at 23/10 and the draw at 12/5.

Morton to keep another clean sheet is 9/5, while a draw at half time and Morton win at full time is 17/4. 

Match Officials  

Referee- Duncan Williams takes charge of his first Morton game of the season. His only previous Morton match was the 0-1 defeat at Hamilton last January, a performance that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

AR 1- Gordon Crawford 

AR 2- Chris Gentles

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