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Signing Off With A Slump




(Photo-Gary Bradley)

Signing Off With A Slump

A Review of Morton’s 2023-24 season, Part Three

By Russell Gordon

Beware the ides of March. After sixteen games unbeaten, but with a mounting injury list following the loss of George Oakley, Ryan Mullen and Iain Wilson, a defeat was perhaps inevitable at some point in March, with the visits of promotion-chasing Dundee United and high-flying Premiership big-guns Hearts on the horizon.

But it was the visit of struggling Inverness that saw the bubble finally burst on an afternoon that Morton just didn’t get to grips with their lowly guests. Having not trailed at any point in the unbeaten run, stretching back to Blair Alston’s winning goal back in November, Morton were behind after only two minutes, as Cameron Harper’s through ball caught the Morton backline sleeping, allowing for veteran Thistle striker Billy McKay to lash the ball past Jamie MacDonald to give the Highlanders a surprise lead. That lead was doubled on 34 minutes as MacDonald fumbled a Sean McAllister free kick into his own net, an error we wouldn’t have expected to see from a fully fit MacDonald.

Morton huffed and puffed without really threatening in a match that Inverness managed magnificently. While Morton have been “credited” for their supposedly cynical tactics throughout the season, Inverness played that particular game to a tee, with chief culprit Alex Samuel spending more time on his ample posterior than he did on his feet, at Thistle ran the clock down from early on, much to the frustration of the home support.


A home defeat by League One-bound Inverness finally brought Morton's long unbeaten run to an end.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

There was more frustration to come in midweek, as United arrived for their re-arranged fixture, finally getting the better of Morton having failed to get the better of the ‘Ton in the two Tannadice meetings. While the return of Ryan Mullen was welcome, it was perhaps premature, thanks to him being slightly less injured than his compatriot, MacDonald.

One common theme from the previous two meetings was the identity of United’s goal scorer, Louis Moult, who notched the only goal from a Tony Watt cross on 26 minutes, though like MacDonald the previous weekend, one wonders if a fully fit Mullen would have made a better job of dealing with Moult’s effort. In truth, Morton didn’t really deserve anything from a match in which Watt ran the show for the visitors, who took another important step towards the crown in their fascinating battle with big-spending Raith Rovers.


Louis Moult's goal was enough to give eventual champions Dundee United the points on their re-arranged visit to Cappielow.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

Morton however, could focus their attention elsewhere for the time being, as cup fever came to Greenock with the visit of Hearts. With a large travelling support contributing to a near-capacity crowd at Cappielow for a match moved to the Monday night for television coverage by BBC Scotland, injury ravaged Morton, still without Oakley and Wilson, and with Robbie Muirhead handed the thankless task of ploughing a lone furrow up front, acquitted themselves well against their more fancied opponents and in the end, were left to curse Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon, whose two excellent second half stops denied Jack Baird and Lewis Strapp. While Hearts were probably the more deserving of the two sides, on a night that Hearts’ talisman, former Morton striker Lawrence Shankland was for the most part kept in check, it took until five minutes from time for Shankland to feed the Jambos’ Costa Rican midfielder Kenneth Vargas to finally break the ‘Ton resistance and send Hearts through to their inevitable Hampden defeat by Rangers.

strapp Hearts.JPG

Lewis Strapp was unfortunate to come against a formidable Craig Gordon in the Scottish cup Quarter Final defeat by Hearts.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

So, it was back to league business, and a trip to Glasgow to visit old friends, Partick. The miserable form continued, as Alan Power was caught in possession by villain of the piece, Brian Graham, who, as usual took great pleasure in dispatching the opening goal. Morton were second best all over the park, and it was little surprise when Scott Robinson doubled Partick’s lead early in the second half. Though Muirhead nodded in an injury time consolation, there were few positives that could be taken from a miserable afternoon.

The following week saw Morton endure another forgettable afternoon, this time against a Dunfermline team that they had annihilated 5-0 at East End Park a mere seven weeks previous. Even with the returning Oakley to the starting XI, Morton huffed and puffed without really threatening the Pars’ defence, and the decisive moment arrived in the 55th minute as defender Miles Welsh-Hayes looped home a header from a corner over a despairing Mullen to secure the points and leave Morton in an extremely difficult position in the chase for the final play-off place. They weren’t helped when Deniz Mehmet foiled Muirhead from the spot to ensure Morton suffered a fifth consecutive defeat.

If there’s one thing Morton needed when enduring such a desperate run, it was the visit of their wee pets, Queen’s Park. With the Spiders having failed to beat Morton in the league since 1962, another season was to pass with them tucked firmly in the ‘Ton’s back pocket thanks to second half goals via the head of Kirk Broadfoot and from a Muirhead free kick which was helped into the net by Callum Ferrie, a man whose performances against Morton down the years would suggest he loves the club more than I do!

Love wasn’t in plentiful supply though, as Muirhead “celebrated” his goal by cupping his ears to the Cappielow crowd, clearly unhappy with the supports’ reaction to a difficult run of results.

Broadfott QP.jpg

Kirk Broadfoot headed Morton towards a much-needed 2-0 win against Queen's Park to stop a five-game rot.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

And so, it was onwards to what probably proved to be the pivotal match in the campaign. Morton visited Airdrie realistically needing a victory, but certainly needing to avoid defeat to keep in touch with the on-form Diamonds. Cue a horrific first minute mistake from Power that allowed Nikolay Todorov to open the scoring from distance. Smashing. Fifteen minutes in, ex-Morton midfielder Charlie Telfer added to his former employers’ woes by adding a second on a bad-tempered afternoon in deepest, darkest Monklands. Midway through the second half, Mason Hancock nodded home a Telfer corner to finish the match as a contest, before Garrity scored a scrappy consolation that he was probably embarrassed to be credited with. A flashpoint late in the game that saw Baird and Quitongo enter the book summed up a miserable afternoon that guaranteed that Morton would not be gracing the Premiership, and would have to be careful not to be joining Arbroath in League One.

Following the cup run, the rearranged trip to Somerset Park was fitted in for the Tuesday night before Dundee United’s Friday visit to Cappielow, not particularly good planning from a recovery point of view with the division’s top side visiting so soon after.

Nevertheless, a Kirk Broadfoot header gave Morton a first half lead, before Anton Dowds equalised on the stroke of half time. Baird was again apparently involved in an altercation in the aftermath of that goal, and lucky not to see red, but after a second half that played out very much like an end of season affair, the teams had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

When United made the trip to Cappielow the Friday night match with the title in their sights, Morton were in truth, blown away on a miserable night for Dougie Imrie’s side. Ross Docherty who nodded the Terrors into a 20th minute lead with the ‘Ton defence sleeping. Less said about the defending as Glenn Middleton added a second three minutes later, and Louis Moult added his customary goal against Morton to make it three early in the second half. Baird was again fortunate not to be ordered off for a late tackle on Moult.

Quitongo felt aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty before Baird was caught in possession on the halfway line by Watt, who took full advantage to add a fourth, as their visitors sensed the trophy would be heading to Tayside.

Though Muirhead reduced the arrears a few minutes later, Dougie Imrie conceded this was one of the most chastening evenings in his time in charge of Morton.

There was a boost to come though, in the shape of big-spending Raith Rovers’ forlorn chase for the title. In their televised trip to Inverness the following week, Murray’s moneymen were battered by Duncan Ferguson’s toiling Highlanders, but try as they might, Thistle could not find a way past Rovers’ keeper Kevin Dabrowski, and Lewis Vaughan changed the habit of a lifetime and managed to stay on his feet inside the box to lash home a second half winner. As a result, a win for Morton the following day coupled with Queen’s Park failing to beat Dunfermline at already relegated Arbroath would confirm their Championship place for another season.

After a pretty uneventful first half, two goals within a couple of minutes from Crawford and Oakley looked to put Morton in easy street, before Michael McKenna pulled one back midway through the half, another who loves a goal against Morton. Though there weren’t too many scary moments after that goal, the final whistle, coupled with Dunfermline’s 0-0 draw with Queen’s Park confirmed Morton’s place in the division for another season. Job not exactly done, but given the drop off, no major damage done.

Crawford Arbroath.jpg

Robbie Crawford signed off as a Morton player with his final goal in a win at Arbroath before returning to the dark side.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

United all but sealed the title a few miles down the road at Tannadice, and confirmed their crown with a goalless draw in Airdrie the following Friday. That rendered the match with big-spending Raith Rovers pretty meaningless, and I can’t in all honesty recall much about the goalless draw that saw a number of players play their last home game for the club.

With only the trip to Inverness remaining, Morton played a supporting role on a big night for the Highlanders, who required a victory and a favour from Airdrie, who visited Queen’s Park. With the Diamonds looking forward to their play-off quarter final with Partick, Thistle were always playing for snookers.

Not for the first time though, the star of the show was the referee- this time the hapless Craig Napier. After Morgan Boyes had given Inverness the lead on the half hour, Broadfoot pulled Morton level just before the break. Napier decided to lose the plot early in the second half, throwing yellow cards around like confetti and awarding a penalty to Thistle, converted by Cameron Harper, before sending off a clearly incandescent Robbie Muirhead after he was booked after being denied a penalty claim of his own. Sean McAllister added a third a few minutes later to finish Morton’s season with a whimper, but with a fifth placed finish as a result of Ayr and Dunfermline cancelling each other out and failing to match Morton’s points total, things could have been worse. Ask Inverness, condemned to a relegation play-off place following Queen’s Park’s 2-0 win over Airdrie.

The play-offs kicked off with a thrilling 2-2 draw between Airdrie and Partick at Broomfield, with our friends from Glasgow progressing after a 2-1 victory at Firhill. Meanwhile Inverness played out a turgid 0-0 draw at Links Park in the relegation play-offs, before Billy McKay’s goal in the Highland Capital took them through to the final with Hamilton, who beat Alloa 5-4 on aggregate.

Moving onto the promotion semi-final, big-spending Raith Rovers dominated on their visit to Firhill, but would have been disappointed to only record a 2-1 victory as play-off specialist Blair Alston gave Partick a late lifeline. Alston was again Partick’s hero in the second leg, his double sandwiching a Ross Matthews counter to take the tie to extra time. But where there are heroes, there are also villains, and with penalties looming, Partick captain Brian Graham passed up a gilt-edged chance in the dying seconds to send Partick to a final with Ross County, before Ricco Diack was the unfortunate player to miss the decisive spot kick on yet another night of play-off heartbreak for Partick. What a shame.

Inverness didn’t have anymore joy, losing both legs of their final with Hamilton, who returned to the division at the first time of asking, unlike champions Falkirk, who took a full five seasons.

Kevin O’Hara’s bizarre early opener should really have been awarded as a Mark Ridgers own goal, but the hapless keeper suffered yet more ignominy when Fergus Owens added a comical second. Though Inverness pulled one back and looked to stand a decent chance going into the home leg, they were comfortably beaten by a ruthless Accies performance on the road, the 3-2 scoreline not flattering the Lanarkshire side in the slightest, and leading to recriminations in the Highlands that have continued in the weeks since and are showing no signs of letting up.

The Championship line up for 2024-25 was completed by big-spending Raith Rovers, who found themselves facing up to another play-off specialist in Simon Murray, as Ross County followed up a 2-1 victory in the Kingdom with a resounding 4-0 victory in Dingwall. For all their lavish spending, and social media digs at other clubs, there was only one word that could describe their misfortune when they came up against another well-funded club at the final hurdle. Priceless.

Closer to home though, it’s fair to say that things aren’t looking great at this stage of the close season. There are always comings and goings though, and the board reassured the support that the budget for the next campaign would be increased. The problem is though, so has everyone else’s’ budgets, and they’re all starting from a position of strength on Morton- which has seen the club outmuscled by Partick, who signed Robbie Crawford on the expiry of his contract, while relegated Livingston signed up Muirhead and Oakley went to Ayr. At the time of writing, one can only anticipate with dread which fellow Championship club will offer Lewis Strapp more than Morton can afford.

Muirhead Dunfermline.jpg

Another moving on is Robbie Muirhead, who has joined up at Livingston. His failure to convert a late spot kick in March saw fall to a narrow defeat by Dunfemline at Cappielow.

(Photo- Gary Bradley)

With Falkirk coming up on the crest of a wave, and Raith likely to continue their big-spending ways, Hamilton’s budget being a bit of a mystery, but rumoured to have been bigger than Falkirk’s last term, Dunfermline being in a similar boat to Partick in having more resources than ourselves and Queen’s Park being more flush than Morton after Willie Haughey got involved, it looks like Morton will have the lowest budget in the division along with maybe Airdrie, but critically, not as far down the line with squad building.

The welcome additions of pre-contract signing Jordan Davies from Connah’s Quay and of Maidstone’s FA Cup hero Lamar Reynolds will hopefully fill the gap left by Muirhead and Oakley, but Imrie has his work cut out to repeat his feat of the previous two seasons in securing a fifth placed finish, let alone challenging at the top end of the table.

We’ll likely see inward movement over the next couple of weeks, and with most of our players from last season already having left the building, there may only be the disappointment of Strapp’s next destination to come on that front, but we may well have to brace ourselves for seeing rumoured targets going to higher paying clubs, and Imrie looking to again make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

A thankless task perhaps, we all wish him well.


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