THE return of Kenny Shiels to football management is a cause for cheer in many respects.
Alas, his first match in charge of Morton yesterday was to end in all-too-familiar disappointment for all those associated with the Greenock club as an impressive young Falkirk side picked them off comfortably with second half goals from Kieran Duffie and Rory Loy, the latter from the penalty spot. With results not going in their favour elsewhere, Shiels’ new charges now lie six points adrift in the Championship basement.
Shiels arrival at Cappielow has certainly been enthusiastically embraced by Morton supporters and chairman Douglas Rae even went so far as to describe his appointment as “brilliant” in his column in the match programme. When it comes to rousing oratory, the Northern Irishman has few peers in the Scottish game, and in his own programme notes he certainly must have stirred the blood of the Greenock public by declaring that “this club has now become my life and I want you to know I love it in the same way that you do”.
In theory, Shiels’ ability to cajole and influence his new charges yesterday was confined to the dressing room as he served out a touchline ban picked up in his closing days at Kilmarnock.
The compact nature of Cappielow being what it is, however, Shiels’ seat in the directors’ box was so close to the pitchside that the he virtually talked and hollered his players through the entire 90 minutes. His tuition was in the main highly civilised, ranging from mild admonishments (“do as you’re told”) to agitated excitement (“talk to him, talk to him, pass on the instructions”). Some of the fans were even applauding him for that.
As to how this endless stream of guidance translated into action on the field, the Morton players actually looked in turns inspired and acutely lacking in belief. In the early stages they seemed guilty of trying too hard to impress the new boss by playing balls across their own 18-yard box that verged on the suicidal. Falkirk, who came into this game on a decent run of form, looked likely to profit from these unconvincing attempts to embrace the spirit of total football and Mark Millar should have put them ahead but blazed over with barely ten minutes gone. Loy also had Nicolas Caraux scrambling to gather a low shot a short while later.
The home side slowly grew into the game and Reece Hands did muster a decent effort on goal as the interval approached. However, as if to prove the importance of heeding their new mentor’s exhortations they failed miserably to do their marking properly for a Falkirk corner just after the break and Duffie rose virtually unchallenged to head the ball into the net off the underside of the bar to put the visitors ahead.
Despite a spirited attempt to get back into the game after this setback, with David McNeil testing Michael McGovern with a powerful drive, Morton just didn’t have any real cutting edge and their fate was sealed when Tomas Peciar needlessly barged into Phil Roberts in the box and Loy drove home the resultant penalty for the visitors. Even Shiels was a bit subdued after this with the enormity of the task facing him in trying to steer the Greenock club out of the mire becoming ever starker.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” conceded a reflective Shiels afterwards. “We have to move on and show real determination. It’s really, really important that we get the supporters right behind the team.”