ST JOHNSTONE showed precisely why they have become one of the country’s most adept sides in one-off occasions as they claimed a League Cup semi-final place at Cappielow last night.
Tommy Wright’s side extricated themselves from a potentially awkward predicament in overcoming the loss of a goal early in the second period to run out comfortable victors that will provide the 2014 Scottish Cup winners with a third semi-final inside two years.
By contrast, Morton gave an indication as to why they haven’t reached the last four of a domestic competition for more than three decades in the manner they squandered a winning position. A senseless handball by Ross Forbes, as his side defended a Tam Scobbie corner eight minutes after they had taken the lead, turned the tie the way of the Perth side.
When Steven MacLean hammered in the resultant spot-kick, the jig was up for the Greenock team. A jinking run from Michael O’Halloran four minutes later ended with the forward finding the corner of the net courtesy of a precision diagonal effort before substitute Chris Kane bagged a third with a fizzing shot from the edge of the box. The course of events would hardly have surprised Jim Duffy. On radio beforehand, the Cappielow manager didn’t exactly promote his team’s chances of an upset.
The Greenock club’s abysmal cup record and the unavailability of a string of attackers – including Alex Samuel, who scored twice to put paid to Motherwell in the last round – didn’t even seem to be the chief reasons he forecast a difficult night for his Championship team.
Premiership opponents that he pointed out had battered a high-flying Aberdeen 5-0 and taken apart an otherwise winning Rangers to book their quarter-final place, left Duffy sounding daunted by the assignment. In light of all that, he would have settled for the pluck of his team in the first period against Wright’s men.
There were a raft of shaky moments at the back for the home side. Equally, though, there was a bravery in their scampish, eager-beaver attempts to take the tie to the favourites. Perhaps why fortune seemed to favour them across these early stages.
After only seven minutes, one of the many balls into the box with which they struggled was met by the cranium of Graham Cummins and, amid a throng of bodies, the ball smacked the underside of the crossbar and bounced out.
A nodded effort from Joe Shaughnessy then ended up just the wrong side of the upright before Morton keeper Derek Gaston seemed to twist his body as only contortionists normally can to prevent the Perth club opening the scoring. A downward Steven Anderson header seemed to be behind Gaston when he somehow clawed the ball away from his goalline.
Emboldened by these lives, Morton sought to make some running at the other end. And run they did, with Denny Johnstone, Conor Pepper and Stefan McCluskey covering amazing amounts of acreage in the search of openings.
Aside from a couple of glimpses at goal, none arrived until the moment in the 52nd minute that fairly had the old Cappielow rocking. Pepper pounded down the right flank before picking out Johnstone and he produced the composure and measure that Morton’s endeavours had previously lacked to sweep the ball in from eight yards.
Saints, till that point, had exhibited the air of a team that fully expected to produce all the pivotal moments. The goal was a jolt to their system, but whatever was jolting through the body of Forbes when he handled the ball meant recovery for Wright’s men was soon forthcoming.
SCORERS: Morton - Johnstone (52’); St Johnstone - MacLean (61’ pen), O’Halloran (63’), Kane (83’)