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Match Preview - Inverness vs Morton (3rd May)


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Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Morton – Match Preview 

by Russell Gordon 

The curtain comes down on the cinch Championship for another season as Morton take the long road up the A9 to visit Inverness Caledonian Thistle for a game which could confirm a second successive fifth placed finish for Dougie Imrie’s side after an up-and-down season in which they fell short of the promotion play-offs with a bit more to spare this time around. 

However, the hosts have a lot more at stake than pride and prize money, as they fight to avoid a place in the play-offs at the wrong end of the table and will have one eye on events at Hampden as they seek a favour from Airdrie against eighth-placed Queen’s Park, who sit a point above Thistle. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Squad News 

There will likely be a few playing their last game for Morton as the annual turnover of the playing squad begins. With Lewis Strapp out, we can only hope that we haven’t seen the last of him, though it was nice to see Iain Wilson, presumed absent for the remainder of the campaign, get a place on the bench against big-spending Raith Rovers last Saturday. 

After a difficult afternoon for Jai Quitongo, this observer would like to see Jack Bearne get a run out from the start, given he’s contracted for next season and has impressed on his fleeting appearances from the bench. 

Grant Gillespie, another whose future is in doubt, could continue in midfield after another good performance last weekend, though I suspect Jack Baird may return to the fold in place of Kirk Broadfoot. After Broadfoot’s yellow card against the Fifers on Saturday took him to eleven in the league, a further booking could see him miss the start of next season, wherever that may be. 

There could be final appearances for the likes of Robbie Muirhead, Robbie Crawford, George Oakley, Darragh O’Connor, Alan Power, Calum Waters and Lewis McGrattan, while I suspect guys like Broadfoot, Quitongo, Jamie MacDonald and Tyler French will certainly not be returning in July. 

Current Connections  

The only Inverness player to have had the honour of pulling on the famous blue and white hoops is their loanee Ross County striker Alex Samuel, who enjoyed a season-long loan at Cappielow from Swansea City in 2015-16, notably scoring a double in an extra time League Cup third round victory over Motherwell and a late equaliser in a 1-1 Renfrewshire derby draw at St. Mirren Park in November 2015. 

Wallace Duffy was signed by hapless ex-Morton boss David Hopkin on loan from St. Johnstone as Morton prepared for the COVID-hit 2020-21 season, but left without playing a game as Inverness offered the centre back a more permanent deal that suited the player and his parent club more favourably than a short-term deal in Greenock. 

Kirk Broadfoot spent the 2021-22 season in the Highlands, helping Inverness to a third-placed finish in the Championship, and progress to the Premiership play-off final after beating Championship shock-troops Arbroath in a semi-final penalty shoot-out. They were however, dispatched 2-6 on aggregate by St. Johnstone in the final, before Broadfoot took the step down to Lowland League circus-act Open Goal Broomhill, then returning to the Championship with Morton. 

George Oakley had two spells with Inverness- the first an eighteen month spell from July 2017 to January 2019 under John Robertson in which he contributed to their 2018 Challenge Cup success, and a second more brief spell in the first half off last season when he was rumoured to have had a falling out with the notoriously difficult Billy Dodds, before moving onto Morton in a move that looks to have benefitted all parties other than his former employers. 

Morton boss Dougie Imrie also spent two seasons in the Highlands between 2008 and 2010. 

Tale of the Tape  

There’s not been much between the teams this season. The first meeting at Cappielow in October was postponed because it was a wee bit windy, so Inverness couldn’t possibly have been asked to travel to Greenock, despite Morton being forced two weeks previously to play Queen’s Park at Hampden when flooding in Greenock prevented the majority of the Morton support and even midfielder Jack Bearne even getting out of Greenock. Nothing to do with Inverness suffering an injury crisis, no. 

When the match was eventually played, Morton came out on top thanks to an early George Oakley goal, as the former Inverness hitman latched onto a mistake from Nikola Udjur to dink the ball into the net and give Morton a first half lead. That was doubled in the second by Jack Baird, who got on the end of a long Lewis Strapp throw in to lash Morton into a two-goal lead ten minutes from time. A late Adam Brooks header wasn’t enough to rescue a point for Duncan Ferguson’s side. 

As 2023 drew to a close, Morton weren’t extended the same courtesy of a postponement despite the treacherous conditions on the A9, but returned with a 0-0 draw from a pretty turgid game, very much a point gained. 

Things weren’t as good on Inverness’s next visit to Cappielow as Morton’s sixteen-match unbeaten run stuttered to an end with an insipid 0-2 defeat. Billy McKay’s early strike set the tone for a game that Morton just didn’t look themselves, and Sean McAllister’s free kick deceived a clearly unfit Jamie MacDonald in the Morton goal to double the Highlanders’ lead. 

Morton huffed and puffed with little success and were victims of a display of timewasting and game management that would have had Jose Mourinho purring from their visitors. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Opposition Analysis  

After years of racking up debt with scant regard for actually paying the bills, this may be the season that the chickens come home to roost for Inverness. Losses in the region of £1 million year on year were never going to be sustainable, and it could be argued that last season’s fortunate cup run, after being given a second chance by Queen’s Park’s administrative folly only kept the wolves from the Inverness door. 

A poor start to this season saw Dodds emptied after having been given a two-year deal in the summer, to be replaced by former Scotland striker Duncan Ferguson. The high-profile appointment paid off immediately, with a 3-2 success at Arbroath which took Thistle off the foot of the table at the expense of Morton. 

Ferguson brought in striker Cillian Sheridan and midfielder David Wotherspoon and embarked on a six-match unbeaten league run, though the Irishman was to be quickly released to sign for relegation rivals Queen’s Park and Wotherspoon signed up at title-chasing Dundee United. 

The signing of Samuel has been a relative success, with the Welshman notching a hat-trick at big-spending Raith Rovers to give Inverness a shock win, but after that new-manager bounce in the autumn, Inverness haven’t really got going, with their only league victories since January other than that Cappielow success being consecutive wins over Arbroath and Queen’s Park last month. 

Since those two victories, which took Inverness up to eighth, Ferguson decided he was going to take a leaf out of his namesake Sir Alex’s book and play some mind games, making disparaging remarks about the professionalism of already relegated Arbroath, in the hope it would rile the Red Lichties players up for the visits of Morton and Queen’s Park. 

Ferguson indicated that Arbroath had chucked it, making numerous references to this in his pre-match press conference ahead of their televised defeat to big-spending Raith Rovers, failing to note that Arbroath had lost the previous six prior to relegation being confirmed and were in fact, out of their depth, rather than not interested in getting results. 

With Morton comfortably confirming their survival a fortnight ago, and Queen’s Park smashing five past poor Arbroath, while Inverness were losing to the big-spending Kirkcaldy side and failing to pick up maximum points at their cousins from Dunfermline, leaving Inverness a point behind the Spiders going into the final day. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

What’s Happening Elsewhere? 

With this being the final weekend of the regular season, most issues are resolved. Champions Dundee United will collect the trophy in front of the BBC Scotland cameras as they host play-off bound Partick, who will probably have more than one eye on Tuesday’s quarter-final against Airdrie. 

The Diamonds meanwhile, travel to Hampden for a match the Queen’s Park will be looking to win, or at least match Inverness’s result against Morton to confirm their Championship place for next season. 

Big-spending Raith Rovers will have a week off ahead of their play-off semi-final and close with the visit of Arbroath, who we bid a fond farewell to after five years in the Championship. 

A match that will be of interest to Morton will be the meeting of Ayr United and Dunfermline at Somerset Park. While a draw would see Morton guarantee a fifth placed finish, provided they don’t lose by any more than four goals, a Morton win would be the preferable outcome, with Dunfermline currently sitting a point behind Morton and Ayr two behind. The worst-case scenario is a sixth placed finish. 

In the Premiership, Livingston’s relegation could be confirmed if they fail to match Ross County’s result. The Lions travel to Fir Park, while County host Hibernian. Celtic host Hearts on Saturday while Kilmarnock travel to Govan on Sunday in the race for the title. In the race for the final Europa Conference League place, Dundee host St. Mirren, needing a win to reach that coveted fifth place. Good luck to them. 

League One minnows Falkirk (I might as well say it one last time) will collect the trophy at the 5th (fifth) time of asking as they host Alloa, and there’s a mammoth tie at the bottom, as Stirling host Annan, with both teams level on 38 points. With Annan’s superior goal difference, a draw will be enough for the Galabankies, while Stirling need a win to avoid a relegation play-off place. 

Perhaps the biggest focus however, will be on the battle to avoid meeting East Kilbride in next week’s play-off final. With three teams in the mix, Stranraer look to be the ones heading for the dreaded date with destiny. 

Stranraer host champions Stenhousemuir, who have bizarrely drawn their last eight games in a row, while Clyde, two points ahead, visit Elgin. Should Clyde draw, a three goal Stranraer win will send the Bully Wee into a derby day showdown with the Oystercatchers. 

Bonnyrigg, who host Forfar, can technically go down, but such is their goal difference advantage, it’s hard to find a scenario where that will happen. 

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 7pm on 2nd May 2024 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling.  

Given the jeopardy for them, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see that Inverness are favourites at 11/10, with Morton priced at 21/10 and the draw at 12/5. 

Morton to win to nil is 4/1, with George Oakley priced at 8/1 to score two or more goals. 

Match Officials  

Referee- Craig Napier takes charge of his fourth Morton match of the season, having officiated our first 0-0 draw at Hampden, our 4-0 Scottish cup win over Bo’ness United and the 1-1 draw with Partick. The under-fire official drew criticism in the week over his conduct when refereeing Motherwell’s 0-1 defeat at Pittodrie, with ‘Well boss Stuart Kettlewell and captain Laim Kelly particularly scathing about his behaviour. 

AR 1- Gordon Crawford 

AR 2- Kevin Buchanan 

 

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