Morton 1 - 0 Raith Rovers: Morton steal march on rivals

Morton skipper: The Greenock side's Fouad Bachirou tries to get away from Raith Rovers' Eddie Malone. Photograph: Jane Barlow

Morton skipper: The Greenock side's Fouad Bachirou tries to get away from Raith Rovers' Eddie Malone. Photograph: Jane Barlow

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Having allowed the leadership of the First Division to carelessly slip from their grasp prior to the festive period, Morton have shown in last couple of weeks that they are unlikely to relinquish it again without stubborn resistance second time around.

As they had done against Livingston in their previous fixture, Allan Moore’s men ground out a victory that was unvarnished and, if truth be told, more than a little against the run of play.

Michael Tidser’s well-struck drive just after half time was enough for them in an encounter when the Greenock side tested the adage about looking like champions by winning when not playing well truly to its limits.

“We’ve stolen it,” confessed the candid, but delighted, Moore afterwards. “Raith have had a few chances, we’ve had one shot on target and it’s in the back of the net. It’s another three points, another one down and although we weren’t that pleased with the way we played I’m sure the fans would settle for that until the end of the season.”

Aside from a decisive burst just after the interval, Morton rarely hit any kind of fluency in this game and in the opening 45 minutes in particular were perplexingly low-key given the opportunity lying ahead of them to potentially consolidate their lead at the top of the table. Aside from some energetic bursts from Fouad Bachirou, there was a listlessness and lack of imagination about Moore’s side, and it played straight into Raith’s patient containment game plan.

The Greenock men’s cause was not helped by the near isolation of Peter MacDonald upfront – a succession of through balls either carried too much height or pace for the clever but none-too-pacey striker to latch onto and test David McGurn.

While the visitors were cautious in throwing bodies forward in support of their own target man, Brian Graham, they did nevertheless create nearly all of the few genuine chances that arose during this arid first half. David Smith should have hit the target with the goal at his mercy from only six yards out and right on the stroke of the interval Kevin Rutkiewicz made a real mess of a pass back only for Morton goalkeeper David Gaston to redeem the situation with a vital touch on the ball as the predatory instincts of Graham so nearly paid dividends again for the Kirkcaldy side.

After such an underwhelming attempt to demonstrate their title credentials, it was no surprise whatsoever to see new signing from Ross County Colin McMenamin thrown into the fray for the home side after the break in place of David Graham. This, together with what must have been some choice words in the dressing room from Moore about showing a good deal more urgency, had an immediate impact and within minutes of the restart the Greenock side were ahead with Tidser sending a 25-yard effort skidding past McGurn into the bottom corner of the net.

The breakthrough did not translate itself into spells of prolonged dominance for the league leaders, however, and Raith continued to show some real menace when they broke forward during the remaining half-hour.

Joe Hamill saw Gaston make another fine stop from his glancing header while Rutkiewicz put in a last gasp block to deny Pat Clarke an equaliser in what was probably the other key moment of the second half for both sides.

“We created six goal-scoring opportunities”, insisted the disappointed Raith manager Grant Murray, “but if you don’t take one of them at places like this you’re going to be in for a hard game.”

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