Aberdeen are through to their 14th League Cup final – but they had to battle all the way against a plucky Morton side at a two-thirds-empty Hampden.
Adam Rooney made the breakthrough in the 69th minute and the timing of the goal was cruel on Jim Duffy’s men as they were enjoying their best spell of the match and the Dons fans were getting on their team’s back.
To compound Morton’s frustration, replays appeared to show that the striker was in an offside position as he netted with his header. But it’s Aberdeen who now move onto the final on 27 November having buried a hoodoo with their first victory at the national stadium in 16 years.
It will be a full house that day and the sight of both ends deserted yesterday – the attendance was 16,183 – will hopefully put a stop to semi-finals like this one being taken to Mount Florida.
All week various Cappielow old boys had been dug for a reminisce, including Allan McGraw, Andy Ritchie and Dons manager Derek McInnes, who began his playing career in Greenock. This was a chance for Duffy’s young team to make their own history.
Not one of them was alive when Morton last reached a national cup semi in 1981 or when they last played at Hampden two years before that. The Championship club were aiming for only their third final in their 142-year history.
As empty as it was, Hampden just before kick-off was eerie. The fans undeterred by the lunchtime start or the live TV coverage did their best to make a racket and certainly the Dons began the game in a mild fury.
They forced a corner in the first minute and three more in quick succession. James Maddison, dead-ball on-loan wonderkid, took them all. Kenny McLean forced a save from Andy McNeil and then Jonny Hayes heading against the bar. Morton looked petrified.
But they survived the rest of the first quarter without much bother. Their forays were rare so throw-ins got cheered. Jamie McDonagh fired over a cross which caused a bit of confusion. Then their wonderkid Jai Quitongo, breaking from halfway, was wrongly flagged for offside.
With the Dons falling a bit flat their fans must have wondered if that strange Hampden malaise was returning. Moton won their first corner to lusty cheers and captain Thomas O’Ware flew at it but headed wide.
The Dons kept winning corners of their own and Maddison kept zinging them but to decreasing effect. This was a moment for Morton’s players to breathe deep and believe. They advanced again but at the edge of the box Quitongo twisted those snake hips once too often and, without any assistance, fell over. But the Ton were gaining in confidence, none more so than two of their other little guys, Gary Oliver and Andy Murdoch.
It was from the latter’s through ball, just before half-time that they should have taken the lead. Mark Reynolds got his feet in a fankle which let in Quitongo but his shot lacked cunning. That roused Aberdeen and bang on the whistle Rooney bounced a header off the bar.
The second half continued the pattern of Aberdeen dominating possession but labouring over it and Morton with their limited opportunities not quite finding the spark of the legends and notables remembered in the build-up. They needed someone to be Ritchie-esque. Quitongo still looked the likeliest. Just after the hour he almost let in Jamie Russell after the latter made a great break and then Quitongo fired narrowly wide.
Then the best Morton move of the match ended with an overhead kick from the man who was threatening to becoming the dominant personality. It brought boos from the Dons fans for their team’s limp performance which immediately had the desire effect.
In the 69th minute Graeme Shinnie worked space on the right of the Morton box and flung over a cross to the far post. Andrew Considine nodded it back into the middle for Adam Rooney, looking offside, to head home.
With Morton pushing for the equaliser the extra space provided chances for Hayes and Rooney.
Aberdeen, although not really impressing, still had the lion’s share of the game. The fans sang their daft songs about meadow-mowing. The tunes echoed in the arena, and for periods this game was about as exciting as meadow-mowing, but that would be to diminish Morton’s brave effort.