LONG before the end of this one, they were playing the ball long into the corners in a shameless effort to run down the clock, which only goes to show how valuable this victory was to Dunfermline Athletic.
Scorers: Dunfermline: Thomson (10)
An early goal by Ryan Thomson earned the crisis-hit club their first win in over two months and a priceless three points in their newfound battle to beat the drop.
In administration, docked 15 points and stripped to the bare bones by a combination of injuries, suspension and redundancies, Dunfermline strung five across the back, sneaked an early goal and defended for their First Division lives. They still occupy the relegation play-off place, three points behind Cowdenbeath, but what a game it will be against their Fife rivals next weekend.
“In the circumstances, to get this result against a side that have been up there all year – it’s the result of the season,” said Jim Jefferies, their manager. “The boys were just magnificent. I can’t speak highly enough of them. We have given everybody at the club a bit of a lift.”
That his young team did it against promotion contenders made it all the sweeter, although Morton can no longer claim to enjoy that status. This, their third defeat in four outings, came on the back of a midweek defeat by Partick Thistle, which means that the latter are eight points clear with a game in hand.
The title is gone, and Allan Moore, their furious manager, knows it. “I need to think before I speak because, if I don’t, a few swear words will come out,” he said. “We didn’t want the season to peter out, but it looks like we have handed it to them on a plate and that’s what disappoints me.”
Disarming though it must be to find yourself suddenly thrust into the ignominy of a basement battle, it has not been an unusual challenge for victims of Scottish football’s economic crisis. First it was Rangers starting again in the Irn Bru Third Division. Then it was Hearts going into freefall with a team of teenagers. Now it is Dunfermline, whose manager deserved better than to end his career like this. Seven of his first-team players were made redundant. Four of his most experienced survivors were unavailable yesterday. It was a far cry from the day, two years ago, when the Fife club secured promotion at the same venue.
Still, the Dunfermline manager was out on the touchline, barking instructions to a group of young lads who showed that adversity can be inspiring. Perhaps relieved that the club had been spared liquidation, at least for the time being, they and their bunch of hardy supporters made such a go of it that they nicked their goal after only ten minutes. Allan Smith won a midfield battle with Craig Reid, slalomed off in the direction of Morton’s goal and, just when it looked as though he had overdone it, laid the ball off to Thomson. The Pars striker poked it under the goalkeeper from 12 yards.
What’s more, Dunfermline protected their lead with diligence and discipline. For the rest of the half, Morton were restricted to a Colin McMenamin header, tipped over by Michael Hrivnak, and a shot by Peter MacDonald that deflected into the net after a long throw by Scott Taggart. An offside flag ensured that the “goal” was disallowed.
Although they sat deeper in the second half, the visitors were relatively comfortable except when MacDonald forced the ball wide after a header by McMenamin. David Graham, the former Dunfermline player, almost scored accidentally when his cross landed on the roof of the net but, in truth, it was a pedestrian affair, stretched only when Morton manager Moore went for broke with a couple of positive substitutions.
Taggart sent a free-kick into the box, Mark McLaughlin headed it across goal and the sliding MacDonald just failed to connect. At the other end, Smith should have scored when he cut along the byeline but, with team-mates screaming for a pass, he shot into the side-netting.
Morton laid siege to the Pars’ goal, albeit mostly with long balls. McMenamin’s header was tipped over, McLaughlin’s was fumbled wide and MacDonald hooked over the bar with almost the last kick. The final whistle signalled both the end of the game and Morton’s challenge.