It has been a season of wildly swinging fortunes and some dramatic twists for Morton but it all came together for them at just the right time as their strong finish to the campaign culminated in a day of triumph at Cappielow yesterday. They not only clinched a return to the Championship at the first time of asking but also the League One title by eventually comfortably overcoming a dogged Peterhead side reduced to ten men when Scott Ross was sent off after 22 minutes.
Scorers: Morton - Miller 37; Russell 39; McManus 83; Peterhead - McDonald 17
A healthy crowd of more than 6,000 was there to celebrate the occasion, a reminder of the potential that the Greenock club continues to offer despite some deep disappointments in recent times – indeed it was only 12 months ago that they were on the end of a ten-goal hiding at Hamilton.
They have bounced back however, a bit like their manager Jim Duffy, whose long managerial career has had its own fair share of ups and downs.
“We’ve won more games and scored more goals than anyone else so I think it’s deserved,” he reflected with quiet satisfaction on the pitch afterwards. “It’s a wonderful day – it’s been an unbelievably tough campaign and it’s an unbelievable achievement. When I started here only had two signed players. At times I couldn’t understand the criticism we were getting considering where we were. It might just keep me in a job after this”.
It was perhaps not surprising that Duffy sounded a little drained. At some points it looked as though his side were going off the rails, with a Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Spartans being a particularly painful moment. The spirit he has fostered in his squad is commendable, however, with some notable last-gasp comebacks during the run-in.
They also needed to take a deep breath and compose themselves yesterday as a tenacious Peterhead took the lead after 17 minutes from a Gary McDonald header following a Steven Noble corner.
With news that championship chasing rivals Forfar were ahead at this point, a hush descended over Cappielow. However, their cause was boosted considerably after a foolhardy challenge by Ross on the advancing Declan McManus just four minutes later. As the last defender, match referee Willie Duffy had no option but to show the visitors’ centre-half a straight red.
Morton did not hold back in grasping the lifeline that had been thrown their way.
The ball zipped around the Peterhead box and when Michael Miller latched on to it from nearly 30 yards out he simply belted a low shot beyond Graeme Smith.
The raucous acclaim of the home support had barely subsided when Jamie McCluskey jinked forward and fed Mark Russell, who sent in another low shot towards Smith. It took a bobble just in front of the visitors’ goalkeeper but, nevertheless, he should have done better than allow it to pass through his hands and into the net.
The celebrations were cranked up by the interval with news that there had also been a turnaround in the Greenock side’s favour at Station Park, where Forfar were now trailing. All that was required to put everything to rest was another goal for the hosts but it took a while in coming.
Peterhead continued to be anything but submissive while a plethora of promising openings at the other end came and went. McManus, whose 22 goals had been instrumental in driving on Morton’s challenge since he arrived on loan from Aberdeen, always looked intent on adding to this impressive haul, however. After being denied by a couple of fine stops from Smith he managed to manoeuvre his way round the keeper to roll in number 23 – and the title clincher – after 83 minutes.
They could have had more after that, but of course it didn’t matter. Already their exultant supporters are looking forward to next season and the resumption of derbies with seemingly doomed St Mirren.