Simon Murray is becoming expert at scoring just after the break, grabbing another vital goal here to put Dundee United in a comfortable position from which to progress to next week’s semi-final play-off with Falkirk.
But he was eclipsed on this occasion by Wato Kuate, whose left-foot scorcher from fully 25 yards finally extinguished Morton’s challenge. Blair Spittal’s late strike compounded Morton’s agony but their fans were already getting used to the thought of another season in the Championship.
Manager Jim Duffy gathered his players around him near the centre-circle at the end to make sure they knew their efforts had been appreciated. The visiting supporters made sure of this too.
But the season is still alive with possibilities for United thanks in part to Kuate. The former Manchester City midfielder only joined the Tannadice club in March but made his mark here with a fierce shot that left young goalkeeper Jamie McGowan without a chance.
What a time to score your first goal for the club.
Kuate’s celebration was suitably flamboyant. He ran from the Morton half towards the United supporters in the Eddie Thompson stand and then stood with arms folded to accept their acclaim. It hasn’t always been the most enjoyable of seasons for the United faithful so they were ready and willing to enjoy this thrilling piece of play.
Kuate had almost appeared lost at what to do as he dallied with the ball at his feet in the midfield area midway through the second half. Seemingly bereft of options he transferred the ball on to his left foot and let fly.
Murray’s 52nd minute goal – he scored in the 51st minute at Cappielow earlier in the week – had already seemed to draw the last vestiges of belief from Morton, who could not quite alter the impression this season has been about ten games too long for them.
Duffy’s admirable side did not want for effort. But they lacked the quality required to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit and ultimately ran out of steam. It was a shame for them because Morton negotiated the first half fairly well and avoided conceding a goal before half-time – their first aim.
They were helped in this by 20 year-old McGowan, who was drafted in for only his second game of the season after regular goalkeeper Derek Gaston took ill on the bus to Dundee. He recovered to take his place on the bench.
But that wasn’t an ideal start to a day so vital to Morton’s promotion ambitions. McGowan equipped himself well, turning round a Tony Andreu header eight minutes before half-time on one of the few occasions United threatened. Morton, for all their hard work, also created little in the way of goal openings.
They were let down by their delivery, specifically from corners taken by Ross Forbes. Clearly seeking to hit balls to the back post but away from United bulwark William Edjenguele, his crosses drifted too long and were lacking any menace whatsoever.
Morton had to rely on half-chances therefore. Kudus Oyenuga latched onto the ball after a poor pass from Willo Flood and his angled shot from 20 yards flashed past Cammy Bell’s far post.
United’s best chance other than Andreu’s header was an opportunist’s strike from Murray, who became such a pivotal figure in the first leg by scoring a goal that changed the complexion of the tie.
Again Murray did well to swivel after gathering the ball with his back to goal. Although at a tight angle he dug out an angled shot that could well have been tapped in at the far post had strike partner Thomas Mikkelsen reacted quicker.
But Murray got the goal he deserved shortly after the break, latching on to a poor clearance from defender Thomas O’Ware. His attempt to clear Stewart Murdoch’s cross landed only at Murray’s feet. The in-form striker took a touch and shot into the roof of the net.
About 12 minutes later came Kuate’s moment. It’s unlikely the 21 year old will score a better goal wherever his career takes him, be it Tannadice or elsewhere. The Portuguese has signed a short-term deal with United. Spittal scored his side’s third goal from just outside the six-yard box after a cut-back from Murray with nine minutes left.
Spittal, who has struck three goals in his last four games, has also come good late on in the season for United and is another reason why Ray McKinnon’s side should approach the next stage of the play-offs with optimism.