St Mirren 1 – Sutton (83)
Morton 1 – O’Ware (17)
Morton came within seven minutes of ending 17 years of hurt today before a late John Sutton equaliser forced them to settle for a share of the spoils away at arch-rivals St Mirren.
You have to go way back to the last millennium for the Ton’s most recent competitive triumph over the Saints – a 5-1 win at Love Street on 10 April 1999.
It has been an agonising wait to savour that sweet taste of success in the Renfrewshire derby, and Thomas O’Ware’s first-half header looked set to be enough to earn the local bragging rights once again.
But substitute striker Sutton, brought on with 18 minutes left to play, got on the end of a Lewis Morgan centre to salvage a draw for the hosts and leave the Ton still waiting for that elusive win.
For his team selection, manager Jim Duffy made just one change to the team that bested Berwick Rangers, replacing Mark Russell, who had been ill through the week, with Lee Kilday and moving Ricki Lamie out to left-back.
Morton started superbly and immediately put the Saints on the back foot by using Jai Quitongo’s pace to get them turning towards their own goal.
Such was the early dominance that the Ton managed to twice hit the woodwork before taking the lead, Michael Tidser kissing the top of the crossbar with a swerving strike from distance before captain Kilday crashed a header off the face of the goal frame.
Ross Forbes had been at the heart of a lot of his side’s best opportunities in the early stages, and it was the playmaker who delivered the fabulous inswinging free-kick that allowed O’Ware to ghost in and bullet home a close-range header on 17 minutes.
The visitors were threatening to run riot at this stage and really should have eased further ahead but the menacing Quitongo dragged an angled shot wide after Gary Oliver had prodded a pass into his path as he overlapped on the right.
Hosts St Mirren had been at sixes and sevens and their fans were growing increasingly anxious as Duffy’s men attempted to turn the screw.
It took until the 21st minute for the Paisley outfit to register a notable attempt, veteran striker David Clarkson flashing a low, angled drive across the face of goal and just beyond Derek Gaston’s right-hand post.
The match had evened out by the half-hour mark, and Alex Rae’s side gradually grew into a position of prominence as the first 45 minutes edged towards its conclusion.
Clarkson came close to drawing his side level in the 44th minute but screwed a rising shot wide after a slick exchange involving Lawrence Shankland, and the Ton went in at the break holding a precious one-goal advantage.
The second 45 flashed by in something of a blur with little in the way of clear-cut chances created by either side. Morton had lost some of their early cohesion, though, and began to drop deeper in order to protect their lead.
Saints gambled and went to three at the back but looked incapable of finding a way through a comfortable Ton defence yet to concede a goal in competitive football during the current campaign.
That was until the 83rd minute when wideman Morgan skipped outside the challenge of sub Russell and stood up a perfect cross for Sutton to nod home from six yards ahead of a queue of team-mates.
A frenetic final seven minutes played out without any further scoring and the county rivals walked away from the Paisley 2021 Stadium with a point apiece on the opening afternoon of the 2016/17 league season.
6. Doyle 2. Kilday (c) 4. O’Ware 3. Lamie
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 12. Tidser 18. McDonagh
Subs used: Russell (for Lindsay, 77), Tiffoney (for Quitongo, 86), and McAleer (for Oliver, 90+2).
Subs not used: Scullion, Stevenson, Strapp, McNeil (gk).
Booked: Kilday (52), Tidser (90+2).
St Mirren (442): Langfield; Naismith, Baird, Webster (c), Irvine (Sutton, 72); Gallagher (Walsh, 65), Hutton, Mallan, Morgan; Clarkson (Hardie, 51), Shankland.
Subs: Whyte, O’Keefe, McDonald, Gallacher (gk).
Booked: Baird (11), Irvine (51), Naismith (54).
Referee: Steven McLean
Attendance: 4,997 (1,145 away fans)
Photograph: David Bell