Fine margins at Montrose as missed Morton chances leave second-tier status on knife-edge

The capricious nature of the Scottish lower league play-offs often throws up scenarios where the finest of margins can have drastic consequences for those involved, and that was certainly the case at Links Park on Saturday afternoon as Montrose took a step closer to playing second-tier football for the first time since 1992.

Montrose celebrate after Russell McLean equalises for the home side. Picture: SNS

A dismal first-half found the hosts in a 1-0 deficit in their Scottish Championship play-off semi-final first leg as Gary Oliver netted inside five minutes. Morton weren’t any great shakes themselves, but the pre-tie favourites looked fairly comfortable in their advantage. They then had a terrific chance to double the lead. Markus Fjortoft for the second time in the match, fluffed his opportunity and within three minutes the game was level.

Cruelly and coincidentally, it was Fjortoft at fault. The former Hamilton Accies centre-back slipped when dealing with a high ball. He recovered enough to stop Russell McLean’s attempted cross, but could only watch on as the striker collected the loose ball before curling a beautiful finish into the far corner.

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With the wind in their sails (almost literally given the weather conditions) the lower-tier side went on to find a winner with an equally impressive finish from Graham Webster. With no away goals rule, it gives the League One club a handy advantage to take into the return leg in Greenock on Tuesday.

When Stewart Petrie took over the reins at Montrose in December 2016 the Angus side were looking to fight off becoming Club 42 for the second time in three seasons, while Morton had aspirations of reaching the Premiership under former boss Jim Duffy. There’s now an increasing chance these two could pass each other in the league structure before this campaign is done and dusted.

With Montrose tweeting before the game that they expected their live streaming service to reach record-breaking numbers, there was a real buzz of anticipation from the locked-out locals over this encounter. It wouldn’t take long for that excitement, much like their heroes on the park, to be doused in cold water.

Morton adapted quicker to the driving wind and rain as great movement from Kalvin Orsi and Gary Oliver saw the former break through down the left channel before delivering a low cross that Oliver touched and fired low past goalkeeper at the front post.

The game immediately went into a prolonged lull with neither side having a chance for the next 30 minutes. Fjortoft missed his first of two opportunities as he headed wide from an Aidan Nesbitt corner before Martin Rennie almost equalised at the other end; denied by a goal-line clearance from Lewis Strapp.

Fjortoft’s second sight at goal went a begging as he found himself alone at the back post to turn the ball into an empty net with Fleming flapping at a cross. However, he failed to make the required contact and Montrose took full advantage.

After McLean’s lovely equaliser, Webster got in on the act as he finished off a well-worked move with a thunderous shot across Aidan McAdams and into the far corner.

Morton made a double sub with one of those arriving, Robbie Muirhead, heading over from a corner before Kyle Jacobs failed to convert in injury-time, shooting right at Fleming shortly before the full-time whistle went.

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