Kilmarnock 1-1 Morton: Story of the match as Rugby Park men slip up at home again

On a night when Kilmarnock’s bid for an immediate return to the Premiership faltered on their own patch yet again, Dougie Imrie earned a precious point from his first match as Morton manager.

Rory McKenzie (left) fires in a shot from outside the penalty area to make the breakthrough for Kilmarnock in their Championship fixture against Morton at Rugby Park on Wednesday night. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)
Rory McKenzie (left) fires in a shot from outside the penalty area to make the breakthrough for Kilmarnock in their Championship fixture against Morton at Rugby Park on Wednesday night. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

Rory McKenzie’s stunning first half goal looked to have Killie on course for a victory which would have taken them to within two points of surprise Championship leaders Arbroath.

But Alan Lithgow’s leveller after the break for the Greenock side leaves Kilmarnock still waiting for a first home win since October.

They finished the evening with 10 men following the late dismissal of defender Jack Sanders and it was another setback for the pre-season promotion favourites as they continue their search for a new manager following the sacking of Tommy Wright.

Kilmarnock goalkeeper Zach Hemming is beaten by Alan Lithgow's header as Morton equalise at Rugby Park. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

This was the last Championship fixture left standing on Wednesday night after the other four scheduled games all fell victim to either Covid or the weather.

It provided Kilmarnock, with head of football operations James Fowler in interim charge, with an opportunity to reignite their title challenge while their rivals were idle.

The size of the challenge facing Imrie in trying to keep Morton in the division is considerable. He received no lack of endeavour from his players and while they were second best for long periods, their doggedness provided him plenty of encouragement and was ultimately rewarded.

Killie’s dominance was established early as Fraser Murray saw a shot deflected just wide before Callum Hendry was denied by a fine save from Jack Hamilton.

The former Hearts goalkeeper was a busy man in the visitors’ goal but was well beaten by McKenzie’s superb breakthrough strike for Killie.

Hamilton might have done better with an unconvincing punch as Morton struggled to clear their lines in the build-up to Stephen McGinn feeding the ball to McKenzie some 25 yards out but he had no chance of keeping out the midfielder’s sweetly struck right foot shot.

Killie could have been out of sight before the break but for Hamilton producing fine stops to prevent Scott Robinson and Hendry adding to the lead.

Morton had offered little in the way of attacking menace but while Killie continued to create chances far more often, there was always the prospect of them being punished for their failure to take them.

So it proved when, soon after Murray had passed up a premium opportunity to make it 2-0, Morton equalised. Lewis Strapp, who had replaced Mark Russell just before half-time, whipped in a corner from the right which Lithgow met with a clever near post header to beat Hemming.

Both teams had chances to win it in the more even closing stages which saw Sanders sent packing for hauling back Reece Lyon as he threatened to break clear.

Morton remain bottom of the table, although now level on points with Dunfermline, and this gutsy display gives Imrie plenty to build upon.

Kilmarnock (3-5-2): Hemming, Sanders, McGowan, Stokes; Hodson (Warnock 86), McKenzie, McGinn, Murray, Haunstrup; Hendry (Shaw 74), Robinson (Burrell 86). Subs not used: Walker, McArthur, Alston, Warnock, Armstrong.

Morton (3-5-2): Hamilton, Ledger, Lithgow, McLean (Blues 64); Lynes, Lyon, Jacobs (Muirhead 64), Oliver, Russell (Strapp 42); Ugwu, Reilly. Subs not used: McGrattan, Easdale, Oksanen, King.

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