Match Report: Morton 1-1 Hibernian

Match Report: Morton 1-1 Hibernian
by Jonathan Mitchell

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Morton 1 – 1 Hibernian

Oliver (79) – Cummings (81)

Morton recorded a creditable 1-1 draw with league leaders Hibs at Cappielow last night to stretch their unbeaten home run to an impressive 13 matches over the course of the last eight months.

In that period they have now drawn with the Edinburgh outfit twice as well as beating Dundee United in a Betfred Cup quarter-final and sharing a scoreless stalemate with them on league duty.

The Sinclair Street side have proven they are a match for anyone in the Ladbrokes Championship, and yesterday’s share of the spoils, screened live on BBC Alba, underlined this once again.

Despite being able to bolster their ranks with the addition of a player of the calibre of Celtic’s Kris Commons on an emergency loan prior to the match, Neil Lennon’s men required a Jason Cummings free-kick to rescue a point.

The forward came off the bench to equalise just minutes after Ton hitman Gary Oliver had sent Cappielow wild by stabbing in the opening goal.

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Game over … Kudus Oyenuga becomes the latest Ton player to suffer an injury                                 © David Bell

In contrast to the strength in depth boasted by a club who could not only bring in a former Scotland cap but afford to leave the likes of Cummings and Grant Holt on the bench, the Ton were without two key players.

Both Jamie Lindsay and Jai Quitongo missed out through injuries suffered at Dunfermline seven days earlier, and they were replaced by Michael Tidser and Kudus Oyenuga.

And as they have done all season, the Ton proved their adaptability after just 10 minutes yesterday when Oyenuga was forced off with a hamstring injury that occurred while chasing down a Thomas O’Ware clearance.

Manager Duffy tweaked his team to address the injury by bringing club captain Lee Kilday on at right-back and moving converted defender Jamie McDonagh to his natural position up front.

The Northern Irishman almost made an instant impact at the top end, sweeping a powerful side-footed shot into the side-netting after Tidser and Oliver had combined to cut a path through the Hibs midfield and defence.

Tidser himself then tested visiting goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw with a crisp strike from 22 yards after he was teed up by central midfield partner Andy Murdoch on 19 minutes.

It would prove to be the only shot on target over the course of the first half due in large part to a well-drilled Ton side executing a masterful gameplan in which they worked hard to press their opponents whilst remaining disciplined.

Hibs struggled to find a way through and instead began to look to hit former Cappielow striker Brian Graham early for him to hold it up or play off the second balls.

It did not meet with much success expect for one incident in the 22nd minute when the Ton defence failed to deal with a long ball.

Derek Gaston raced from his line but miscalculated, leaving Graham with an empty goal if he could just lift it over the stranded custodian, but he shanked the effort and skewed wide at the Wee Dublin End.

Commons, operating in a free role behind twin strikers, cut the hosts open with a clever clipped pass over the top and between Kilday and O’Ware.

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Loan star … Kris Commons made his Hibs debut at Cappielow                                    © David Bell

Hibs left wing-back Lewis Stevenson charged in field to control on his chest and then swiped at the ball, unleashing a swerving half-volley that swung just wide of Gaston’s left-hand post.

Morton were proving the better footballing team, though, with some of the slick passing exchanges involving the likes of Forbes, Tidser, Murdoch and Oliver particularly pleasing on the eye.

Yet their best chance of the half came through a swift counter-attacking overload in which McDonagh burst through the middle, ignored Oliver outside on his right and went for goal.

It was the wrong decision, as boss Duffy made clear afterwards, but lady luck almost smiled on the 20-year-old when the ball broke back to him, deflected off his shins and ricocheted back at goal, narrowly clearing the bar.

The second half came to life after a warm minute’s applause for injured firefighter Andy Adams, for whom a wonderful total of £3,172 was raised in a pre-match collection, provided the supporters and players with an extra spark.

For it was shortly afterwards that Ricki Lamie, in at left-back with Mark Russell deployed on the left of midfield, delivered the cross that a Hibs head only succeeded in heading out as far as McDonagh.

The Ton No18 was handily placed 12 yards out, chested down and directed a volley towards goal, forcing Laidlaw to plunge to his left and push clear with a strong two-handed save.

Hibs began to assert themselves as the second half progressed, and Gaston was required to produce a fine save to keep out David Gray on 70 minutes, spreading himself to block an angled drive from point-blank range.

Defender O’Ware then prevented a sure-fire goal with a magnificent block to prevent sub striker Grant Holt’s swept finish from crossing the line after Martin Boyle had picked him out inside the box with a cross from the right.

Just when the visitors were looking most likely, a moment of magic conjured up by the wand-like left peg of Ross Forbes lead to the opening goal on 79 minutes.

Shuttling in off the right flank, the playmaker worked a yard of space and, in the blink of an eye, released a stunning strike that sailed over Laidlaw before dipping at the last second and crashing off the face of the bar.

McDonagh was first on the scene, and in a surreal moment of misfortune, he forced the rebound back against the goal frame.

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Third time lucky … Gary Oliver follows in to force home the opening goal                         © Gary Bradley

You would be forgiven for thinking the chance was gone, and everyone in the stadium probably did – except Oliver, who followed in to force the ball over the line to make it third time lucky and net his sixth of the season.

When the sides met in Edinburgh back in August 2015, Cummings came off the bench to replace Marvin Bartley and turned the game, scoring within 35 seconds to give his side a narrow 1-0 win.

And history repeated itself yesterday when the forward replaced Liam Fontaine before levelling with a fantastic 22 yard free-kick, whipped over the wall and inside the right-hand post, just four minutes after entering the fray.

Cummings could well have snatched all three points right at the death but for another crucial O’Ware block that prevented his side-footed shot from finding the net after Gaston had been caught out by a long ball over the top.

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Level terms … Hibs substitute Jason Cummings finds the net with a precise free-kick                 © Gary Bradley

The shot-stopper then redeemed himself by recovering to get in the way of Holt’s follow up and ensure they picked up the point that their efforts merited, as well as preserving their unblemished home record.

 

Morton (4411)

1. Gaston
18. McDonagh 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 3. Lamie
8. Forbes 21. Murdoch 12. Tidser 17. Russell
7. Oliver
9. Oyenuga

Subs used: 2. Kilday (for Oyenuga, 16), and 6. Doyle (for Murdoch, 90+1).

Subs not used: 11. Nesbitt, 14. Scullion, 39. Strapp, 20. McNeil (gk).

Booked: McDonagh (54), Tidser (72).

Hibernian (3412): Laidlaw; McGregor, Hanlon, Fontaine (Cummings, 77); Gray (c), Bartley, Shinnie,Stevenson; Commons; Boyle (Forster, 89), Graham (Holt, 66).

Subs not used: Keatings, Eardley, Crane, Virtanen (gk).

Booked: Bartley (73), Shinnie (90).

Referee: Steven McLean

Attendance: 2,156

Images (main and inset): David Bell

Images (inset): Gary Bradley