For the first home league game of the season, it seemed only fair that last season’s hero would be the player to be interviewed. It is unlikely that Morton would have won the League One title without the continued heroics of goalkeeper Derek Gaston.
The 28 year old won all of the supporters’ player of the year awards last season which is a testament to how well he performed throughout the season. Despite the goal scoring exploits of Declan McManus throughout the year, it was Gaston who won the fans acclaim most with a string of excellent performances. Derek started in junior football and was signed by Albion Rovers from Baillieston’s under 21 squad in 2009. He became their regular first choice keeper for season 2010/2011 and helped them to win promotion to the second division and then in the following season, played an important role in keeping them there.
Gaston then joined Morton in the summer of 2012 and actually made his debut against his former club in the first round of the Challenge Cup, a match which Morton won 2-0. Since then, Gaston has become established as the club’s first team keeper and his performances last season earned huge plaudits from the fans. As well as numerous clean sheets, there were also a number of extremely important, arguably season-saving stops from the 28 year old. This will now be the six foot three keeper’s fourth season at Cappielow.
After the highs of last season, Derek described that it was not a difficult decision to stay with Morton for another year; “Last season was brilliant. There were some low points obviously but you’re going to get them most seasons. Round about Christmas time I had a wee injury, we lost a few games and weren’t looking too good but we managed to get it together again towards the end of the season.”
“Winning the league and keeping the majority of the team was a big deal to me. We’re also into a better league with better teams. There’s going to be plenty of great games this season so it was quit an easy decision to stay on.” “The team had a great togetherness and a brilliant fighting spirit. We always knew the game wasn’t over until the end and that if we got one goal we could always get another. “You see quite a lot when teams get promoted and get rid of 10 players and build again. I think you need a bit of continuity to help, especially when the team had such togetherness. When you build a whole new team sometimes it takes a while to find out what your right blend of players is which can make it difficult to get off to a good start.”
Gaston was one of Morton’s best performers every week but there were a few saves which stand out in his mind, “The one against Ayr United at Cappielow stands out. I think we were 2-0 down at the time with 15 minutes to go. It was getting to the critical point of the season and if we had lost the game we might not have had a way back but the team managed to turn it round. “The one at Stranraer was another good save, probably even better because it was on the TV. A lot of people thought it was in, especially from the dugout. It was obviously extremely important to keep it out considering the importance of the match.”
As mentioned, saves like those helped Gaston to a clean sweep of the player of the year awards. On this subject the keeper said, “It’s always great to win a player of the year award, I would have been happy to just win one but to have got them all was extra special, especially with having the league’s best player and top goalscorer in the team. It’s quite unusual to pip him to them all.”
Looking back at last season and forward to this one, I asked Derek how important the fans’ backing is to the players. He said, “There were obviously points last season when the fans were on our case, maybe a wee bit too critical at some points. “However, at the end of the season it showed when we were on a good run and the fans were on our side how much it helps. “Towards the end even when things weren’t going right they kept behind us. I think Stirling Albion away sticks out in my mind. It was 0-0 at half-time and they’d probably been the better side but the fans cheered us on to the pitch even though we were struggling and that gave us a big boost, it’s what you need in that situation. If you’re struggling sometimes you just need the fans to help you out. When their on your case some players heads can go down but it helped at the end.”
Like many of the fans, Gaston is excited about the prospect of big games against Rangers, Hibs and especially St Mirren. He said, “You’ve got three big teams in the league so 12 really good games which is a third of the season. It’s going to be a difficult season for all the teams but an exciting one. “I’ve played St Mirren in the Renfrewshire Cup before but obviously the real thing is totally different. Both sets of fans will turn out in good numbers so it will be really good especially since we’ve not had one in so long. It’s definitely the game all the fans were looking forward to when the fixtures came out.”
On the season ahead, Gaston is optimistic despite the disappointing Petrofac cup defeat against Dumbarton. The keeper said, “Pre-season has been good. It was tough for the first couple of weeks and I picked up a wee injury which kept me out for about 10 days so it wasn’t ideal for me. “The games have had a good blend of difficulty and have let us try a few different formations and line-ups. I feel good, a few weeks ago I was struggling a wee bit but I’ve had a few weeks back now and I’m ready to go. “Obviously we were very disappointed with the Dumbarton result but we can’t look too much into that game because we had a few players out injured and suspended and we lost a couple of guys during the game too. “I think we only had 6 or 7 players at the end of the game who would usually start if it hadn’t been for injuries and suspensions. Obviously it’s still disappointing to lose and concede three goals. The performance wasn’t great but I wouldn’t look too much in to it. “We were missing Frank (McKeown) and Rickie (Laimie) and then lost Tam (O’Ware) after 10/15 minutes so we had to do a bit of reshuffling. It shows we maybe need a couple more players for depth but any team would struggle with 6 or 7 players out.
“We’ll see how we start off. Obviously we’re not going to be challenging for the title but you’d like to try and sneak into the play-offs maybe. If the season doesn’t start off well you maybe aim for mid-table but minimum requirement is to stay up.”
This article originally appeared in the Morton v Falkirk programme dated 8th August 2015.