An inspired and energetic performance from Morton’s Nacho Novo helped lead the Scottish Championship’s basement boys to their first league win since the first day of the season, defeating Ian Murray’s Dumbarton on a rain-soaked day at Cappielow.
Allan Moore made three changes to his side that were narrowly knocked out of the quarter finals of the League Cup by St Johnstone 10 days ago with Nicholas Caraux, Marc Fitzpatrick and Michal Habai dropping out to be replaced by Derek Gaston, Craig Reid and Jonathan Page. Ian Murray made only one change to his side that dumped Cowdenbeath out of the Scottish Cup last week with Chris Turner coming in for Gary Fleming.
Morton kicked the game off and had the most of the early exchanges and should have been ahead with only one minute on the clock after good play down the left hand side from Joe McKee. The former Burnley man swung in a low cross which found Archie Campbell all alone in the box but he miscued his shot and the effort went harmlessly wide. McKee laid another one on a plate for centre half Mark McLaughlin just two minutes later as he swung in a free kick from deep, however the towering centre half could not put his free header on target. Dougie Imrie was keen to get on the ball early on and when it fell to him 20 yards out he didn’t need a second invitation to have a pop at goal, but his shot fizzed wide of the away sides goal. Dumbarton barely had a kick of the ball for the first 10 minutes as Morton piled on the pressure looking to grab an early goal.
A strong run through the centre of the park by Dumbarton’s Chris Turner saw him feed Mark Gilhaney on the right hand side. The winger cut the ball to the edge of the box to Jordan Kirkpatrick who blazed the ball high over the crossbar from 18 yards. One minute later the Sons had another chance and the players felt aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty. Kirkpatrick swung a free kick in from deep which caused mayhem in the home box and appeared to strike a Morton defender’s arm. The Dumbarton players crowded referee Stevie O’Reilly, however the official was having none of it. As he ran away from the fuming Dumbarton players he fell flat on his backside and was helped to his feet by a rather reluctant looking Gilhaney, who continued to demand a penalty to no avail. The game started to fizzle out as both teams tried to gain control of the match and we would have to wait until the 35th minute for another meaningful piece of action.
After a poor first half performance, Dougie Imrie brought the game to life again as he slid the ball through to Nacho Novo who charged down on goal. It appeared he almost had too much time on his hands and in the end, with the outside of his boot, he struck the outside of the post. On the stroke of half time Novo was sent through again by McKee making no mistake this time as he rolled the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net. The home fans celebrations were short lived as the linesman’s flag was up and Novo was adjudged to have been offside. It was all Morton in the first half, but the sides went in all square
The second half began in much the same way as the first, with Morton creating the vast majority of the early chances. Novo was wreaking havoc in the Dumbarton back line and just four minutes into the second half he forced Dumbarton goalkeeper Jamie Ewings into making a smart save down low to his right. Morton had another chance after 56 minutes and it was that man Novo again who was picked out in the box by Craig Reid, however the little Spaniard put a very tame header well wide of the goal. The goal came on the hour mark and Novo was involved again as he was chopped down 25 yards from goal on the hour mark. Dougie Imrie stepped up and curled a delicious ball into the box for Mark McLaughlin, whose stooping header gave the Dumbarton goalkeeper no chance as it nestled in the bottom corner.
Either side of Morton’s opening goal there were bookings for Kirkpatrick and McGinn of Dumbarton as a few feisty challenges flew in. Bookings were the only thing Dumbarton were contributing to the game as Morton went from strength to strength and they should have extended their lead as a rejuvenated Imrie put an inviting ball across the face of goal and with the goal gaping, Novo hit the post. Another great flick from the ex-Rangers man allowed McKee to drive down the right hand side and with substitute Kabba Cham in acres of space in the middle, McKee took to long to release the ball and the cross came to nothing. McKee was coming into the game again and he hit a sweet low strike from 30 yards just passed the base of the post before pinging a lovely ball with the outside of his foot over the Dumbarton defence to release Novo. The decision making was again poor from Novo as he dallied on the ball, allowing Ewings to collect the loose ball and somehow keep Dumbarton alive in the game.
Had Morton been a bit sharper in front of goal it really could have ended up being 4 or 5 nil in this game but there was only time for one more goal and it was Imrie again with the assist. On 89 minutes he swung in a corner from the right hand side and as Ewings came out to collect, Tomas Peciar rose above the goalkeeper to nod the ball into the bottom corner. It had taken Morton almost the full 90 minutes to seal the victory but it was a game they never looked like losing. Special mentions go to Joe McKee whose passing was at times a joy to behold and Dougie Imrie despite being very poor in the first half grabbed both the assists for the goals. However, today’s man of the match has to go to Nacho Novo whose performance included everything but a goal as he looked to get involved with every Morton attack, getting in behind the Dumbarton defence, coming short and bringing other players into play and running the channels well. It is unexpected that he will be at Morton past January and with performances like this bigger clubs will certainly be keeping tabs on the man who won three SPL titles and played in the Uefa Cup final during his time at Rangers.
After the match Morton’s Allan Moore talked of his team’s much improved second half performance, he said: “I said to a few of the boys there’s no point in sitting in here for ten minutes and getting tight and letting the muscles stiffen up. I told them if they wanted to get tuned in then go out early (from half time) and Dougie went out early. You need to take the good and the bad with Dougie and you get more good now since I’ve had a wee chat with him and now he works his socks off. He does put good balls in and that’s what we’ve been asking him to do all season.
“The only thing that was lacking (Novo’s performance) was a goal. He had a chance in the first half he could have maybe hit with his left but he’s toe poked it with his right and hit the post. He had a couple in the second half as well that he was unlucky with. We might not have him after January so if he wants to put himself in the shop window he has to start banging in the goals and I’m pretty sure they’ll come because he’s a great player and a great professional.”
Dumbarton’s Ian Murray added: “We are disappointed. We are disappointed with the scoreline and disappointed with our performance because we didn’t play well. I can’t ask any more from them in terms of application and desire to win the game, it was just on the day our touch wasn’t good enough, our passing wasn’t good enough, and ultimately I don’t think we deserved to win the game.
“To be five points clear of a full time side at this stage of the season is a fantastic achievement for the boys. Obviously if we don’t get wins we’ll start getting pulled down so we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we do what we’re good at and at the end of the day I’d rather be five points ahead than five points behind like we were last season. We’re fairly happy and optimistic and that’s as poor as we’ll play all season.”
Morton: Gaston, Reid, McLaughlin, Page, Peciar, Wallace, Bachirou, McKee(Stirling 86), Imrie (Russell 90), Campbell (Cham 70), Novo.
Unused Subs: Caraux, O’Ware, McNeil, Verlaque.
Dumbarton: Ewings, McGinn, Linton (Smith 80), Graham, Barry, Murray, Turner, Gilhaney, Kirkpatrick (Prunty 65), Megginson, Nish.
Unused Subs: McKerracher, McDougall, Phinn, Agnew.