Rooney (69), McLean (88)
A spirited Morton side gave a very good account of themselves but fell just short of reaching their first national cup final since 1963 after conceding two second-half goals in today’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden.
After a scoreless first-half in which the Ton weathered an early storm before Jai Quitongo passed up an excellent chance to score, goals from Adam Rooney – which replays showed was offside – and Kenny McLean eventually ended the Ton’s exciting Betfred Cup journey.
It has be taken into consideration that, not only was this the Cappielow club’s first semi-final in 35 years, but also the first occasion the vast majority of this current crop of inexperienced young professionals had performed on such a stage.
And the enormity of the occasion seemed to get to the Greenock men during an extremely edgy and anxious opening, and they just about survived an absolute onslaught in a fraught first five minutes.
Lee Maddison’s inswinging corners were a real source of danger, and it was from his second minute flag-kick that Kenny McLean forced Andy McNeil to make a smart one-handed block and push the ball over his bar.
They went even closer from the subsequent delivery, winger Jonny Hayes popping up inside the box to nod the Norwich City loan star’s cross against the face off the goal frame.
Duffy’s men survived another few scrapes before beginning to settle into their shape around the 20-minute mark and restrict the space enjoyed by a by-now much less slick Dons side growing increasingly frustrated and taking potshots from distance.
Teenager Quitongo has been the Ton talisman during this cup run, scoring goals against Kilmarnock, Berwick Rangers, Hamilton Accies and Dundee United upon the way, and he was presented with a great chance to cement iconic status on 44 minutes.
Andy Murdoch dissected the Dons defence, slipping a precise pass inside Mark Reynolds for Quitongo, who edged in from of the Dons defender and in on goal, only to see his reverse finish blocked by the legs of beanpole 6ft 5in goalkeeper Joe Lewis.
There was a feeling that not only was it a golden opportunity missed but also perhaps the key moment in the match. Had the Ton taken the lead at that juncture, just before half-time, it could just have upset Aberdeen enough that they might not have recovered.
Despite saying that, the Derek McInnes’ men could just as well have gone in at the break leading, Rooney kissing the crest off the crossbar with a looping header from Maddison’s inswinging cross from wide on the left in first minute of stoppage time.
The first 25 minutes or so of the second half belonged to Morton, though, with Quitongo fizzing a fierce rising drive narrowly wide, attempting an acrobatic overhead kick and sending a header off target as the underdogs made their presence felt.
Yet it was just when they seemed to be threatening to cause an upset that the Premiership outfit edged in front in controversial fashion on 69 minutes when Graeme Shinnie drove down the right and chopped back inside onto his left and floated a cross to the far post.
Left-back Andy Considine was in an incredibly advanced position and headed back into the danger area for Rooney, who had drifted into space, albeit ahead of the Ton defensive line, and nodded back past Andy McNeil into the net to break the deadlock.
A huge weight seemed to be lifted off the top flight outfit’s shoulders whilst the Ton began to grow increasingly ragged as the game entered it’s closing stages due to a mix of fatigue and chasing the game.
Defender Gavin Gunning, exceptional throughout alongside Thomas O’Ware and behind central midfielders Jamie Lindsay and Docherty, appeared to be struggling with his recent hamstring problem, and Nial McGinn took full advantage, dropping a shoulder to drive past him to the byeline and unleash an angled drive.
Cappielow custodian McNeil did well to plunge to his right to flick the ball beyond the far post, but only succeeded in touching it into the path of the inrushing McLean, leaving the former St Mirren man the simple task of rolling into an empty to net to seal his side’s place in next month’s showpiece final.
Despite losing out, manager Duffy, assistant Craig McPherson, the backroom staff, players, supporters and everyone associated with the club can be proud of both the efforts on the day and over the course of a memorable and historic cup run.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 17. Russell
18. McDonagh 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 9. Oyenuga
24. Quitongo 7. Oliver
Subs used: 11. Nesbitt (for Oyenuga, 72), 37. Tiffoney (for McDonagh, 77), and 2. Kilday (for Lindsay, 89).
Subs not used: 3. Lamie, 12. Tidser, 14. Scullion, 1. Gaston (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (57).
Aberdeen (4231): Lewis; Logan, O’Connor, Reynolds, Considine; McLean, Shinnie (c) (Burns, 89); McGinn (Storey, 90+2), Maddison (Jack, 85), Hayes; Rooney.
Subs not used: Pawlett, Stockley, Morris, Alexander (gk),
Booked: McGinn (47), Considine (84).
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Images: David Bell