Forbes (27), Shankland (67)
New signing Lawrence Shankland scored a debut goal as Morton beat Raith Rovers 2-0 at Cappielow yesterday to open up a nine-point gap in the race for the promotion play-offs.
Jim Duffy’s side came into the game third in the Ladbrokes Championship, six points clear of the fifth-placed Kirkcaldy outfit and seven ahead of Dunfermline Athletic in sixth.
And a fortuitous goal from Ross Forbes and Shankland’s second-half header saw the Ton pick up another precious victory to open up a considerable cushion on the clubs outside the top four.
This win also meant that the hosts had extended their impressive unbeaten home record, that stretches back to last March when Rovers triumphed in Greenock, to 16 outings in all competitions.
The Stark’s Park side came unstuck at Cappielow back on 1 October last year when a Forbes free-kick separated the sides.
And the midfielder was a threat to Kevin Cuthbert’s goal in the opening stages, peppering the target with crosses and shots in the first five minutes.
The likes of Forbes were a little less reluctant to throw a ball into the centre in the knowledge that they now had a focal point up top in the shape of new recruit Shankland.
And it was this addition to their attacking arsenal that would lead to them taking the lead in the 27th minute.
Forbes checked in off the right flank and whipped an inswinging cross towards Shankland as he darted across the front of the Raith defensive.
The Aberdeen loanee’s leap to meet the centre seemed to throw former Ton keeper Kevin Cuthbert, who was left flat footed as he failed to connect and the original cross drifted inside the far post.
The pair were at the heart of Ton’s next clear chance when Shankland chested down a Michael Doyle cross and neatly flicked the ball out to the overlapping Forbes.
He, in turn, expertly span a defender and whipped a disguised shot to the near post, forcing Cuthbert to plunge to gather.
As well as scoring seven goals so far this season, Forbes has been a primary source of assists, particularly his dead ball deliveries for Thomas O’Ware.
And they almost combined to double Morton’s advantage on 39 minutes when top scorer O’Ware attacked the midfielder’s outswinging corner.
But the nine-goal defender failed to get enough purchase on his connection as he stretched to divert the flag-kick towards the target with an outstretched toe and Cuthbert snatched the ball.
Although it had been a relatively even half, the visitors didn’t manage to troubled Derek Gaston until the final minute of the half.
When they did it was ex-Cappielow winger Bobby Barr who saw his fierce rising drive flipped over the top by his former Albion Rovers and Ton team-mate Gaston, and he showed his respect by applauding the reaction stop.
Gaston was called upon more in the first 15 minutes of the second half than he had been in the first 45, diving to smother Ross Callachan’s deflected strike and parry Ryan Hardie’s stabbed shot.
However, this was a terrific Morton team performance and the drive and energy provided by the likes of Andy Murdoch, Gary Oliver and Doyle helped their side reassert themselves.
And they scored a second goal to put the game to bed when Shankland netted on 67 minutes to mark his first in style.
Mark Russell was the architect, accepting a pass from Murdoch and playing a sharp one-two with Oliver to cleave a path to the bye-line, from where he stood up a perfect cross to the far post.
Hitman Shankland once scored the winning goal in a Renfrewshire derby for St Mirren into the same goal, and he repeated the feat at the Wee Dublin End in the blue and white hoops, nodding into the net from six yards.
There was a sense that the whole home crowd was just as desperate for the new boy to get on the scoresheet as he was, and it really was the icing on the cake of a fantastic afternoon’s work for the Ton.
6. Doyle 2. Kilday (c) 4. O’Ware 17. Russell
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 11. Nesbitt
16. Shankland 7. Oliver
Subs used: 12. Tidser (for Nesbitt, 38), and 3. Lamie (for Shankland, 90+2).
Subs not used: 14. Scullion, 22. Orr, 37. Tiffoney, 39. Strapp, 30. McNeil (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (90).
Raith Rovers (4411): Cuthbert; Davidson, M’voto, Benedictus (c), McHattie; Johnston (Stewart, 66), Thompson, Callachan, B. Barr; Stevenson (Roberts, 66); Hardie (McManus, 75).
Subs not used: Thomson, Skacel, C. Barr, Brennan (gk),
Booked: Davidson (79), Roberts (87).
Referee: Gavin Duncan
Images: David Bell