Durnan (83) – Kilday (39)
Morton came within seven minutes of ending a 38-year wait for a win at Tannadice after a late equaliser forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw away at Dundee United this afternoon.
Skipper Lee Kilday gave the Greenock men the lead with a thumping header from a Ross Forbes corner, but a fortuitous Mark Durnan leveller rescued a point for the second-placed Tangerines.
Due to Falkirk’s 2-2 draw at home to Dumbarton, it’s a case of ‘as you were’ in the play-off positions in the Ladbrokes Championship this evening.
The Ton had also shared the spoils with the Bairns in another four-goal thriller seven days earlier, and manager Jim Duffy decided to retain the same starting XI in the same shape.
However, he elected to deploy certain players in different roles, bringing Thomas O’Ware back into defence from midfield, moving Ricki Lamie out to left-back and Mark Russell forward one to left midfield, with Michael Tidser pushed into the engine room.
As surely as night follows day or the sun sets in the east, this is a Morton match report that will make frequent mention of the not-so-secret weapon that is Forbes’ deadball delivery.
With 10 minutes gone, it was the midfielder who registered the first shot on target from a free-kick won by Aidan Nesbitt, who operated in a free role behind Lawrence Shankland, in a central position 25 yards out.
Forbes looked to give Cammy Bell the eyes and feign to bend the ball into the top-left corner before whipping a shot towards the opposite side. It just lacked a bit of punch, though, and the Dundee United shot-stopper comfortably clutched.
Six minutes later, the 27-year-old looped another delivery into the area, from wide on the right this time, finding Thomas O’Ware arriving beyond the far post.
The 10-goal defender failed to hit the target with his header, but in doing so sent a dangerous ball across the face of goal, one that Shankland was a foot or so from turning into the net.
In Scott Fraser, the hosts had their Ross Forbes equivalent: A left-footed midfielder playing wide on the right who was in charge of the set-pieces and their creative force.
The former Airdrie loanee dropped a couple of testing flag-kicks on top of Derek Gaston, forcing the Ton keeper to flip one over the top before it dropped in under the bar and punch another out over a ruck of bodies.
He also carved out a couple of chances in open play, twice teeing up Tony Andreu – but the Norwich City loan star was having off-day and snatched at both.
On 20 minutes, he shanked a wild left-footed shot well wide before creating an opportunity of his own four minutes later that he fired tamely at Gaston as he fell off balance on the turn.
Finally, just before the half-hour mark, Fraser danced away from Russell and Lamie down the right before pulling back a perfect low cross for the Frenchman, who skewed high over from just seven yards.
Another temporary transfer into Tannadice has been Thomas Mikkelsen’s arrival from OB Odense in Denmark, and the striker was next to pass up a chance for the hosts, lofting over the bar after easing in front of O’Ware to latch onto a long ball in behind.
Listing these chances, though, is not to say that the visitors spent the first half on the backfoot. They posed more than their fair shate of problems at the opposite end.
Their boundless energy and tenacity meant Ray McKinnon’s men could never truly find their rhythm, while the likes of Nesbitt and Shankland ruffled feathers at the opposite end of the park.
Nesbitt has often been described as a ‘pest’ to opposition defences, and it was the Celtic loan star who teased defender William Edjenguele out on the right to win the corner from which his side would take the lead in the 39th minute.
Forbes delivered a wicked inswinger from the right and skipper Kilday applied the finishing touch at the far post, escaping his marker to bullet an unstoppable header into the roof of the net.
The roar that accompanied the goal was so loud that kitman Andy Bryan assumed the home side had broken the deadlock as he prepared for half-time in the dressing room.
Incredibly, it was the Ton No.8’s 18th direct assist of the campaign and the defender’s fourth goal this term – a personal best for the club captain with two months of the season still to play.
The second half saw more of a rearguard action from a Morton side pressed back by a team desperate not to cede second place by losing on their home turf.
The likes of O’Ware and Kilday were towers of strength as was midfield dynamo Andy Murdoch in front of them, as they worked together as a cohesive unit to limit Dundee United’s chances.
And on the rare occasions they managed to get past the centre-back pairing, goalkeeper Gaston provided an impenetrable last line of defence, including a fantastic save at the feet of substitute Simon Murray on 64 minutes.
United really started to turn the screw in the final 10 minutes and the travelling support responding by rallying to the cause and roaring their team on to try and push them over the line.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the hosts restored parity late in the day scoring through a slice of luck to take a point when Lamie attempted to clear a Fraser corner but fired against an unknowing Durnan and into the net.
Despite the agonising circumstances surrounding the outcome, a draw at Tannadice is a result not to be sniffed at, and the away fans showed their appreciation with a rapturous round of applause at full-time.
And they could still be heard outside the stadium from the pressbox, chanting as they headed back to their coaches for the journey home after watching another performance to be proud of from a squad that is fast becoming an all-time favourite to many fans.
18. McDonagh 2. Kilday (c) 4. O’Ware 3. Lamie
8. Forbes 21. Murdoch 12. Tidser 17. Russell
Subs used: 19. Donnelly (for Shankland, 74), and 9. Oyenuga (for Russell, 87).
Subs not used: 6. Doyle, 14. Scullion, 37. Tiffoney, 39. Strapp, 30. McGowan (gk).
Booked: Forbes (90+1).
Dundee United (4411): Bell (c); Van der Struijk, Durnan, Edjenguele, Dixon; Fraser, Flood, Telfer, Van der Velden (Murray, 62); Andreu; Mikkelsen (Coote, 68).
Subs not used: Dillon, Murdoch, Nicholls, Robson, Zwick (gk),
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Image: David Bell