O’Ware (15), Forbes (28), Oliver (69) – Gordon (87)
Time to settle the score? You bet it was, and in some style too.
After 17 years of torment, teasing and taunting, this was a long time coming – but the Renfrewshire bragging rights are finally back in Greenock after Morton mauled St Mirren at Cappielow last night.
You had to go back to the last millennium, 10 April 1999 to be precise, to find the Ton’s last day of dominance in the derby when Kevin Thomas’s treble fired 10 men to a 5-1 victory.
Although meetings between the sides had been relatively sparse in the intervening period – just seven competitive clashes before league hostilities were resumed last term – the wait for that sweet taste of success was, at times, torture.
The brutal 4-1 home beating when Saints won the title in 1999/00, the 3-2 League Cup surrender in extra-time in 2002, the Challenge Cup semi-final loss on spot-kicks in 2005 might have been spread out but all meant for Morton misery.
Then, when the sides finally found themselves back in the same division last term, the Sinclair Street side could not quite muster that milestone victory despite being the better team and finishing higher in the league.
And when John Sutton popped up with a late equaliser in Paisley to cancel out Thomas O’Ware’s headed opener and salvage both a point and the Saints’ long-standing record in August, it was almost too much to bear.
But if there was one team, one group, and coaching staff to finally set the record straight and restore the club to a position of regional prominence, it was this one.
And although it would be too much to say it was worth that wait, the emphatic fashion in which they blew their rivals away certainly meant that it was as a sweet a derby win as even the most seasoned fan will have ever experienced.
From the first whistle, the Ton went at their opponents with a boundless energy and high intensity approach that was ceaseless for the entire first-half and with which their shell-shocked opponents just could not cope.
Ross Forbes has been a key figure for Morton this term, and he was at the heart of all their best work in the opening quarter, forcing Jamie Langfield into two early saves as he peppered the goal with shots.
The second of those was a set-piece, and when he himself was fouled high and wide on the right on 15 minutes, it was in a position that required a cross rather than an attempt at goal.
True to form, the 27-year-old was pinpoint with his delivery, dropping a dangerous centre inside the six-yard box for O’Ware to attack.
The skipper outmuscled marker Ben Gordon to nod under Langfield to open the scoring in his second derby of the campaign, as well as taking his tally to an astonishing six – level as top scorer with Jai Quitongo.
Quitongo and Aidan Nesbitt recently celebrated call-ups to the Scotland Under-21 squad for a friendly against Slovakia, and the teenage pair were truly terrorising the visitors.
And it was Quitongo who started the slick move that led to goal number two on 27 minutes with a backheel scoop through a bamboozled Gordon’s legs and into the path of Gary Oliver charging through the centre of the park.
Oliver surged into the space and then slipped an intelligent reverse pass into the path of Forbes bursting a gut to get up in support outside him on his left.
Without breaking his stride, the former Motherwell midfielder, who has been the team’s talisman this term, lasered an emphatic low drive into the net past a helpless Langfield to make it 2-0 and five for the season on a personal level.
It was then that you knew, just knew, that it was finally our night. And it wasn’t just the scoreline – the Ton had been irrepressible in the first half and the visitors didn’t have any answers.
Celtic loanee Nesbitt, for example, is beginning to click into high gear and show the potential that sees him so highly rated at Parkhead, and Kyle Hutton was forced to resort to foul means to halt him on 41 minutes.
Midfielder Hutton was correctly cautioned, and he and team-mate Tom Walsh failed to reappear for the second half as manager Jack Ross made a double change in order to try and salvage the match.
Besides a David Clarkson trundler that trickled past Derek Gaston’s left-hand post and a Lawrence Shankland snapshot that flashed into the Sinclair Street terracing, Saints had offered nothing in the first 45.
They were more of an attacking force after the break, with former Ton loanee Jason Naismith seeing a low drive spin narrowly wide after taking a deflection, but the Greenock men were still well on top.
And they had the ball in the back of the net again on 60 minutes, but just as he had against Ayr on Saturday, Nesbitt saw his ‘goal’ ruled out for offside in very similar circumstances.
On this occasion, Oliver was adjudged to have interfered by darting across Langfield’s line of vision as the wideman’s inswinging cross from the left flashed across the goalkeeper and nestled in the net.
However, just nine more minutes would elapse before the Ton would add that killer third. Forbes again provided the assist, cushioning off a long ball back into the path of Oliver arriving in support.
The talented Ton No.7 confidently strode onto the ball and stroked a side-footed shot into the postage stamp top corner, making it look like the simplest task in the world.
In reality, it was a moment of sheer class and one that sparked delirium around the Greenock ground, as Ton fans’ attentions turned from just actually winning a derby to rubbing salt in the wounds of their age-old rivals.
It might well have been four had Langfield not produced a fine block towards the end to thwart Kudus Oyenuga after fellow sub Michael Tidser had presented him with a great opportunity with a cute, disguised reverse pass.
As it was, there would be no further Ton scoring, and the visitors would, in fact, pull one back when defender Gordon headed a Stevie Mallan corner into the top corner three minutes from time.
But you couldn’t even call it a consolation goal. There could be no consolation for St Mirren after such a comprehensive derby day defeat.
For Morton, who jump up to fourth in the Championship, the monkey is finally off the back. After 17 long, long years, Morton fans can once again lay claim to the title: The Pride of Renfrewshire. The score is settled.
18. McDonagh 4. O’Ware (c) 3. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 11. Nesbitt
Subs used: 9. Oyenuga (for Quitongo, 80), and 12. Tidser (for Forbes, 85).
Subs not used: 2. Kilday, 5. Gunning, 6. Doyle, 14. Scullion, 20. McNeil (gk).
Booked: McDonagh (73).
St Mirren (442): Langfield; Naismith, Gordon, Baird, Irvine (c); Morgan, Hutton (Magennis, 46), Mallan, Walsh (Sutton, 46); Clarkson, Shankland (Hardie, 64).
Subs not used: C. Gallagher, McLear, Whyte, S. Gallagher (gk).
Booked: Mallan (35), Hutton (42), Baird (81).
Referee: Euan Anderson
Attendance: 3,378 (1,008 away fans)
Image (main): David Bell
Images (inset): Gary Bradley and David Bell