Greenock Morton came into this game, ironically having played the team in the league that they had beaten to progress to this round – Queen of the South at the weekend. They drew the league game but Jim Duffy proved that his high hopes of going one better as they faced Premiership Motherwell were far from misplaced.
Motherwell, on the other hand, were coming into the game having lost to derby rivals Hamilton Academical in the Premiership at the weekend. It may have been by a single goal but the sword of Damocles hanging over Ian Barraclough’s head was more than a little real as a consequence.
Both sides showed changes from the teams that had played Last Saturday. For the home side there were four changes as Peter MacDonald and Connor Pepper went straight into the first 11 whilst Alex Samuel and Romario Sabajo were promoted from the bench.
For the visitors, Lionel Ainsworth, captain Keith Lasley and top scorer Lewis Moult were sacrificed for Jack Leitch, Marvin Johnson and Dom Thomas.
The opening 10 minutes set the tone as there seemed to be more urgency from Morton than their premiership opponents. The only goal of the first half came in the 11th minute as Motherwell’s defence seemed to be sorting out themselves from their last mix up when Alex Samuel pounced, waltzed through and tucked it beyond Connor Ripley for the first goal of the game.
Motherwell reacted by upping the tempo and could have equalised 8 minutes later as Morton’s back line got themselves all fankled and allowed Marvin Johnson a shot from distance though Derek Gaston in the Morton goal managed to collect easily enough.
As the half progressed Morton were playing a dangerous game as they kept pace with their opponents but at time rode their luck. Fortunately for them they were facing a Motherwell side devoid of any confidence.
In the 27th minute Morton should have doubled their lead as Thomas O’Ware met a Ross Forbes corner with a header under the bar that managed to land over it. In the 30th minute the ever dangerous Peter MacDonald for Morton pounced on yet another defensive miscommunication as he warmed Ripley’s hands from the inside of the box.
Misplaced passes, miss communicated moves and frustrating passes that ended behind on rushing players rather than in their paths in the final third proved that whilst the Well might be able to stroke the ball about a bit from defence to midfield they lacked any killer touch up front. By the 3snd minute of the first half even the Motherwell faithful had totally lost hope and began booing.
Those boos got louder when the half time whistle had gone, especially after Peter MacDonald should have done better in the 41st minute when he latched onto a through ball from Ross Forbes – all he needed was a touch; he got it but touched it wide. At half time it was more than a touch Motherwell needed; they went in at the interval in search of some healing hands.
With no changes at half time both sides took the field to muted applause from the visiting supporters and raucous applause from the cow shed.
The first few minutes of the second half seemed to be rather heated in a game that had so far only generated one yellow – for a shoulder charge from Morton’s Connor Pepper in the first half. Such aggression seemed to be paying dividends for the visitors as they were now throwing balls towards Morton’s keeper, Derek Gaston as Morton’s rhythm was disrupted. Having noticed the lack of penetration up front Ian Barraclough made a double substitution on the 56th minute as Scott MacDonald and Louis Moult came on for a largely ineffective Theo Robinson and Dom Thomas. It was a change of formation as well as tactics as both Moult and Macdonald went up top as Robinson had been ploughing a largely unproductive field alone up top.
The substitutions looked like they would work for the Steelmen as in the 60th minute Scott MacDonald came close from a Johnson cross but all he got was a corner. Two yellows followed as first Joe Chalmers and then Josh Law went into the book for two consecutive fouls. From the second of those fouls, Ross Forbes laid the free kick off to the side for Peter MacDonald to shoot and his shot rattled the post, then hit keeper Ripley before trundling along the line for a throw in.
This was frenetic and for the neutral great entertainment between two evenly matched teams. As we entered the final quarter of the game the only question was whether Morton could last the pace; heaven forbid there would be extra time as the effort of the lower league hosts was immense.
The bubbling context of the game threatened to erupt on the pitch when in the 71st minute, Louis Moult got his name in the book after taking great offence at Thomas O’Ware’s reaction to his challenge in the Morton box. Whilst O’Ware seemed to recover miraculously Moult rightly saw yellow for hauling O’Ware up off the ground. Motherwell’s Chalmers then conceded a foul on the edge of the box which Peter MacDonald laid off to Forbes whose deflected shot went just agonisingly wide. It was to be MacDonald’s last action of the game as he was then substituted for Denny Johnston.
In the 76th minute Law managed a header in a crowded box for Well which was as clear cut a chance as they had managed all second half up to that point; it went wide and over. With 10 minutes to go Lionel Ainsworth was Motherwell’s final sub as caution was thrown and Motherwell went for it. With Moult, MacDonald and Ainsworth on this was a different Well side; there was urgency and vitality but was it all too late?
On the 85th minute it was almost over as the enigmatic Michael Tidser shot from inside the box after brilliant wing work from Sabajo lead to him skinning two defenders, getting a cross in but as Motherwell crowded out every shot out from within the box bar one, Tidser’s shot was parried by Ripley.
The equaliser which went against the run of play came from sub Scott MacDonald who turned the ball that was sweetly played into the box by Ainsworth from inside the box. Gaston was given no chance as the Motherwell fans celebrated a very lucky move into extra time.
The final whistle had been one that the Ton had been desperate to hear but when it came it was 30 seconds too late and extra time was here.
In the first half of extra time and in the 95th minute of the game, Morton’s Ross Forbes tried his hand from fully 40 yards out. Ripley had to be lively to turn it past his right hand post as Morton showed little sign of fatigue. In the 99th minute Louis Moult then beautifully brought down an Ainsworth cross only to then miss an absolute sitter. The action then went straight up the other end as Alex Samuel converted a beautiful cross from Forbes to sneak the ball past Ripley and send the crowd spilling onto the pitch at both ends – followed by the constabulary!
Tempers flared as Motherwell fans now surged towards the Morton goal. Extra stewards and police were called and the referee had no choice but to stop the game. There had already been bother between the police and stewards and the crowd after one of the Motherwell fans had been arrested towards the end of the second half. People around him had tried to save him from the clink but they couldn’t. After the Morton goal some of the Morton fans had taken it upon themselves to hit the pitch and goad the Well fans but thankfully once order and a large police presence was in place we continued.
Upon restarting Scott MacDonald forced a save from Gaston’s feet as Motherwell were given too much space and this almost allowed the Steelmen to level but it remained 2-1 for Morton after the first half.
As the second period of extra time started a half hearted Liam Grimshaw effort early on didn’t test anyone but gave notice that Motherwell still felt they were in the contest. Morton hung on in the early few minutes as Ainsworth again had a simple task of finding the net but 6 yards out was unable to connect. It appeared to be all over bar the appearances in court the following morning when Bobby Barr went on a run down the left and played in Michael Tidser in the 116th Minute of the 2nd half to place his shot beyond Ripley. 3-1 Morton. The drama was not finished there as in the 120th minute Louis Moult pounced on a loose ball in the box to make it 3-2 as this game took yet another twist.
Unfortunately for Well it was too little too late as the final whistle went and they were out the competition. For the home side, there were tremendous performances from a variety of players including Alex Samuel, Lee Kilday and Romario Sabajo impressing. Motherwell seemed to wait for the subs to come on and the shape to change before they began playing which looks ominous for the season ahead.
After the game, Morton manager, Jim Duffy spoke of how his team had taken the last minute sucker punch in regulation time and praised his players.
He said: “Well, you don’t know about the temperament of your players until they are put in those circumstances and obviously they answered the question. You know we said to them before the period of extra time that you can deal with it in two ways; you can feel sorry for yourself or you can roll your sleeves up and show that you have a bit about you. The players certainly done that in extra time.
“We always looked a threat going forward and you know we had to deal with a lot of balls into the box which was always going to be the case and you know I can’t really remember Derek Gaston making a right save in the 90 minutes and then for them to score with thelast kick of the ball it was a right kick in the teeth and could have knocked the stuffing out of us but fair play to the players.”
Looking forward to the visit of Rangers on Sunday, Duffy commented that extra time was ‘hardly ideal’ but the Morton team were delighted to be in the draw for the Quarter Finals.
As for Ian Baraclough, he commented on how ‘tonight was the night for the outpouring of emotion and how I feel’.
Asked about how he felt following the defeat revealed, ‘anger’. Revealing the conversations in the dressing room after the game he suggested that the press were perhaps privy to such outpourings as he let rip in the dressing room where he pointed out ‘where we need to be to win games of football’. Asked if he was the man to turn things round Baraclough was ebullient stating, ‘For sure, yeah’.
Greenock Morton (Samuel 9, 99), (Tidser 113)
01 Gaston, 02 Kilday Booked 69, 04 O’Ware, 19 Gasparotto, 15 Pepper Booked 43, 14 Tidser, 06 Miller Booked (03 Lamie – 86′), 08 Forbes, 22 Sabajo (16 Barr – 99), 10 MacDonald (09 Johnstone – 76), 18 Samuel
Substitutes unused – 07 McKee, 12 Scullion, 20 Adam, 35 Stevenson
Motherwell (Scott MacDonald 93)
01 Ripley, 18 Law Booked, 06 McManus, 16 Kennedy, 15 Chalmers Booked, 11 Johnson, 04 Grimshaw, 21 Leitch, 25 Taylor (07 Ainsworth – 80), 23 Thomas (77 McDonald – 57), 17 Robinson (Moult – 57 Booked)
Substitutes unused – 05 Laing, 13 Samson, 14 Lasley, 19 Clarkson
Ref: Greg Aitken