Morton gave their supporters the gift of three points as an early Christmas present with a 1-0 win over Queen of the South at Cappielow today.
On a windy and wet December 24, in a match that kicked off at 1pm, Jim Duffy’s side showed grit and determination to grind out the victory thanks to Thomas O’Ware’s first-half header.
The hard-earned triumph saw the Ton move back ahead of Falkirk into third place and stretch their unbeaten home run to a fantastic 14 matches.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw with erstwhile league leaders Hibs was the 13th in that sequence, and Greenock gaffer Duffy made four changes to his team for the Doonhamers’ Christmas Eve visit.
Goalkeeper Derek Gaston had been ill through the week and was replaced between the sticks by Andy McNeil, while the hamstring injury that forced Kudus Oyenuga off against the Easter Road outfit saw him miss out.
That meant Jamie McDonagh continuing up top and Michael Doyle filling the vacant right-back berth. Ricki Lamie was replaced by Aidan Nesbitt and, in the final switch, fit-again Jamie Lindsay was restored to the starting line-up ahead of Michael Tidser.
Shot-stopper McNeil was called into action after 11 minutes, dropping to block after hitman Stephen Dobbie was sent clear by Jamie Hamill’s floated pass and fired off a left-footed snapshot.
Star striker Dobbie was always likely to prove Queens’ dangerman; by the same token, Ross Forbes’ set-pieces would be a key goal threat for the Cappielow club.
The playmaker went close with a 25-yard free-kick on 14 minutes, which was a portent of things to come as it was he who would provide the assist – his 15th of the season – for what would turn out to be the winning goal three minutes later.
From a position closer to the right touchline, Forbes whipped an undefendable dead ball round the back of Doonhamers defensive line for O’Ware to attack and send a bullet header into the net.
There was a real sense of deja vu about the manner in which they had taken the lead, with it bearing striking resemblance to the defender’s goals against St Mirren this term.
Ton’s longest serving player now has nine for the campaign – a remarkable return for a player who has made the vast majority of his appearances at centre-half – pushing him further ahead at the top of the club’s scoring charts.
Forbes was the architect again on 28 minutes with a measured pass down the right wing to release flying full-back Doyle, but he delayed pulling the trigger a fraction too long, allowing Chris Higgins to recover and get in and vital block.
Morton were controlling proceedings, but in Dobbie, Gary Naysmith’s side possessed a talisman capable of producing something from nothing to level things up.
And the former Swansea City man did exactly that just after the half-hour, firing a left-footed volley into the net via the upright – however, a Derek Lyle handball in the build up saw the strike ruled out, preserving the host’s advantage.
The Ton were soon back on the front foot, though, and Gary Oliver went within inches of doubling their advantage after accepting an improvised McDonagh pass, throwing a stepover to create space and curling a low shot narrowly wide of the right post.
Gavin Gunning wasn’t just content with defending his own box like his life depended on it and started to take matters into his own hands at the other end, charging out of his own half on a mazy dribble that ended with a speculative 40-yard shot that floated over.
The Irishman was more orthodox in his approach in first-half injury time, spinning a deft pass down the inside-left channel for McDonagh, who then forced a smart stop from former Cappielow keeper Lee Robinson.
Robinson was called into action again eight minutes after the break, producing an acrobatic save to claw Forbes’ fantastic chip over the top before later pushing another O’Ware header from a Forbes corner onto the face of the crossbar.
Morton had controlled the majority of the first hour, but Queen of the South assumed that mantle thereafter as they desperately sought an equaliser.
Duffy’s men were dogged in their defending, though, and the Doonhamers managed to create just two clear-cut scoring chances in the final half hour.
On 70 minutes, Dobbie picked out substitute Danny Carmichael arriving in the centre with a fizzed cross from the right bye-line, but the winger failed to adapt his body shape and direct wide with his knee.
And on the only real occasion the Greenock men were caught napping all afternoon, McNeil bailed his team-mates out by blocking with his feet after Dobbie slipped a quick free-kick to Ross Fergusson sindie box to make sure it would be a Merry Christmas on Sinclair Street.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 17. Russell
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 11. Nesbitt
18. McDonagh 7. Oliver
Subs used: 3. Lamie (for McDonagh, 76), and 12. Tidser (for Nesbitt, 85).
Subs not used: 2. Kilday, 14. Scullion, 39. Strapp, 30. McGowan (gk).
Booked: McDonagh (35).
Queen of the South (442): Robinson; Brownlie, Dowie, Higgins (c) (Bell, 63), Marshall; Anderson (Carmichael, 63), Hamill, Jacobs, Millar (Fergusson, 76); Dobbie, Lyle.
Subs not used: Hooper, Moxon, Nelson, Atkinson (gk),
Booked: Brownlie (38), Hamill (57), Marshall (72).
Referee: Barry Cook
Images (main and inset): David Bell
Images (inset): Gary Bradley