This was a game that Morton had to effectively win twice over.
East Fife: Buchanan 83, 89
Morton: McLaughlin 54; Hakai 79; McNeil 94; Campbell 99, 118; Imrie 102 (aet; 2-2 after 90 mins)
Seemingly cruising with a two-goal lead going into the last ten minutes of a relatively low-key affair, they were caught napping by a quick-fire double strike by Liam Buchanan and looked in real danger of going out of cup competition for the second time in consecutive weeks to lower division opposition. However, a devastating three-goal burst in eight minutes of the first half of extra time set them back on track and killed off East Fife’s obstinate challenge.
The Greenock side’s exit from the Ramsdens Cup at the hands of Annan Athletic must have raised fears among their fans that the club were still suffering a hangover from the late slump in which they conceded the First Division Championship chase to Partick Thistle. Many familiar faces have departed from Cappielow in the wake of that finale and manager Allan Moore has had to look to the continent to find affordable replacements, although the recruitment of the much-travelled Dougie Imrie, who became increasingly influential as the game progressed and scored Morton’s fifth goal, has added some craft to their attacking options. It was, however, the pace of Archie Campbell that was to prove decisive in finally turning the tide their way yesterday.
With angst raining down on Moore from the Morton supporters after his side had seemingly allowed victory to slip from their grasp, he admitted to relief at the positive response from his recast side after extra time got under way. “We switched off and the fans were on our back – and rightly so. We just tried to calm the players down and get them to do what they hadn’t done in the 90 minutes and get balls behind them for Archie because he’s got pace to burn and good finishing skills. Once we got back ahead they had to come out and attack us and we were able to pick them off.”
Morton initially adapted better to the blustery conditions and earned a handful of decent opportunities in the opening half hour, but were unable to apply the crucial finishing touch or were denied by some fine saves by East Fife goalkeeper Michael Andrews.
Having been on the ropes for long spells, the Fifers started to show some bite either side of the interval with Buchanan, one of their prominent summer recruits, testing Derek Gaston on a couple of occasions, It was the visitors, however, who got the breakthrough goal as Mark McLaughlin bundled the ball over the line from close range following a wind-assisted Imrie corner. Midway through the half, they extended their advantage after Imrie’s free kick was flicked on for Slovakian defender Michal Habai to powerfully volley home.
Game over it seemed, but as the minutes wound down Buchanan finally got his sights fixed on goal and in an astounding twist scored twice from close range in the final seven minutes to force extra time.
Instead of capitulating, the Greenock side seemed galvanised by the turn of events and took command of proceedings. Substitute David McNeil restored their lead within four minutes, drilling the ball past Andrews having been set up by Tony Wallace’s header and shortly afterwards Campbell got the reward his industry merited with a composed finish after sprinting clear of the hosts’ defence from the halfway line.
The wheels proceeded to fall off completely for the now bedraggled Fifers as another Campbell goal-bound shot was deliberately handled by their skipper, Craig Johnstone. He collected an inevitable red card and Imrie was at hand to knock in the rebound after Campbell’s spot kick had been parried by the unfortunate Andrews.
An ultimately satisfying afternoon for Moore’s men was rounded off by a second goal by Campbell with two minutes remaining.