Cairney (48), Forrest (69) – Forbes (85)
Morton’s search for their first Ladbrokes Championship win of the campaign goes on after losing 2-1 to Ayr United at Somerset Park this afternoon.
Goals from Paul Cairney and Alan Forrest gave the Honest Men a 2-0 lead that proved enough to claim all three points despite Ross Forbes giving 10-man Ton hope by pulling one back in the closing stages.
It was the Ton’s third consecutive defeat in competitive matches following reverses at Hibs and Queen’s Park, and manager Jim Duffy decided to make four changes to the team that went out of the Irn-Bru Cup at Hampden.
In came Ricki Lamie, Mark Russell, Jamie Lindsay and Jai Quitongo for Michael Tidser, Lewis Strapp, both of whom missed out through injury, Caolan McAleer, and Scott Tiffoney.
The Greenock men were slow to start, and both Brian Gilmour and Gary Harkins flashed efforts just wide of Andy McNeil’s right-hand upright in the opening quarter hour before Forrest fired a shot straight down the Ton goalkeeper’s throat.
Morton’s early gameplan was upset when Lamie was forced off with a recurrence of his recent hamstring problem on 21 minutes, and Duffy responded by bringing on Aidan Nesbitt, moving Thomas O’Ware back into defence and switching from a 4-3-3/4-5-1 system to a 4-2-3-1.
The switch brought about a positive effect, though, as the Sinclair Street side soon pushed onto the front foot and carved out a clutch of half chances in the remainder of the half.
The best of which saw both Nesbitt test Ayr goalkeeper Greg Fleming with a low drive and Gary Oliver fire over from a promising position following good work by Quitongo down the right flank.
Yet, after finishing the first half on top, Ton sleep walked their way into the second 45 and found themselves trailing within three minutes of the restart, just as they had at Hampden seven days earlier.
Right-back Nicky Devlin got in round the back as the away defence was carved open and squeezed the ball under McNeil and across the goal mouth before Harkins picked up the possession just beyond the far post.
Where many lesser players would have rushed a shot at goal from the near impossible angle, the talented attacking midfielder showed real vision to calmly look up and roll the ball into the path of the inrushing Cairney to slam into the net from six yards out.
Greenock-born Harkins has so often been a thorn in his local team’s side over his career, and he provided a second assist on 69 minutes when he nonchalantly backheel flicked a throw into the box round a defender for Forrest to volley past McNeil from close range.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors just three minutes later following the dismissal of Mark Russell after the left-back hauled back Kevin Nisbet to prevent Ayr’s substitute striker going clear on goal.
Midfielder Forbes gave the 10 men a lifeline with five minutes remaining by rifling a free-kick into the top-right corner from a central position 20 yards out after a foul on sub Thomas Orr, but despite four and a half minutes of stoppage time there were no further opportunities to rescue a point.
6. Doyle 2. Kilday (c) 3. Lamie 17. Russell
10. Lindsay 4. O’Ware 8. Forbes
24. Quitongo 9. Oyenuga 7. Oliver
Subs used: Nesbitt (for Lamie, 21), McDonagh (for Oyenuga, 66) and Orr (for Oliver, 77).
Subs not used: McAleer, Scullion, Tiffoney, McGowan (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (37), Russell (58).
Sent off: Russell (72).
Ayr United (442): Fleming; Devlin (c), Balatoni, Meggat, Boyle; Gilmour (O’Connell, 84), Adams, Docherty, Cairney (Nisbet, 58); Harkins (McGuffie, 77), Forrest.
Subs not used: Crawford, Thomas, Murphy, Hart (gk).
Referee: John McKendrick
Image: David Bell