Quitongo (24), O’Ware (31) – Van der Velden (55)
The dreaming and longing is over. It’s finally our turn for a day in the sun.
After 35 long years, Greenock Morton will once again contest a national cup semi-final thanks to an historic 2-1 win over Dundee United at Cappielow last night.
You have to go way back to 11 April 1981, and a 2-1 loss to Rangers in the Scottish Cup at Celtic Park in front of 27,050 fans, for the last time the Ton had performed on that stage.
But goals from Jai Quitongo and Thomas O’Ware were enough to edge past the Arabs and give a whole generation of supporters a first ever opportunity to watch their side play in the last four of a major competition.
Jim Duffy’s side had halted a run of three successive defeats by beating Dunfermline Athletic at the weekend, and the Greenock gaffer made two changes to the team that performed so well against the Pars.
In an enforced switch, Jamie Lindsay came into the team at the expense of Lee Kilday after the skipper suffered ankle ligament damage in the first half on Saturday.
The Celtic loanee took up a place in central midfield, thereby allowing O’Ware to drop back into defence, where he was joined by the returning Mark Russell following a one-match suspension.
Russell’s inclusion in place of Aidan Nesbitt saw Michael Doyle move back across to the right full-back berth and Jamie McDonagh start in a more familiar position one advanced on the right of midfield.
There was also a second start for Gavin Gunning, against his former side, and it is hard to overstate the effect the warrior-like defender has had on the group already.
His fiery competitive edge, relentless barking of commands, and fierce will to win have rubbed off on his team-mates – and that’s before you mention the quality of his defending.
The 6ft 2in centre-half is imperious in the air, and it was from one of his huge headed clearances that the Ton would break the deadlock on 24 minutes.
His thumping forehead connection was flicked on by Ross Forbes into the path of Quitongo, who nodded on and then turned on the afterburners to go searing clear and lash an unstoppable rising drive past Cammy Bell.
In-demand teenager Quitongo gave his side all three points with a late winner against Dunfermline days earlier, and this Betfred Cup goal, his fifth of the season in all competitions, surely sent his stock soaring further.
To complete a clinical one-two jab combo and leave the Tannadice team reeling, the Ton added a second just over seven minutes later.
Forbes was again the provider, whipping over an inswinging corner that aerial assassin O’Ware attacked at the near post and directed down into the net.
As bedlam erupted across the terraces, the long-serving defender marked the moment by recreating the Bafe Gomis prowling panther celebration he had performed after scoring in last month’s Renfrewshire derby.
The visitors were staggered and against the ropes at this stage, and if McDonagh had managed to hit the target with a fierce angled drive following fantastic approach play by Quitongo on 34 minutes, he would have delivered a knockout blow.
As it was the ball skewed over the bar and into the Wee Dublin End, and Ray McKinnon’s men were still in the fight, albeit struggling to make much headway against the impenetrable defensive barrier of Doyle, O’Ware, Gunning and Russell.
They were restricted to efforts from distance, and when midfield playmaker Scott Fraser crafted an opening with clever footwork just before the break, Andy McNeil was equal to the effort, plunging to his right to claw wide.
Ton were dealt a real body blow just 10 minutes into the second half, though, when Fraser’s downwards header crept through a rare crack in the home defence for Nick van der Velden to burst clear down the inside-left channel.
And the veteran Dutchman made no mistake, rifling an unerringly accurate left-foot finish past the exposed McNeil and into the bottom-right corner to truly set the cat amongst the pigeons.
On so many occasions for so many different Morton sides over the years, this would have been critical, the turning point in the match when hope would have been extinguished as the game turned irreversibly on its head.
But not this time, not with this team.
The spirit that carried them through the League One campaign and to a fifth place finish, reach three quarter-finals, and big results at Ibrox and Easter Road was in evidence as they gave everything to close out the game.
Despite their desperate search for an equaliser, chances were at a premium for Dundee United, and when Blair Spittal was presented with a glimpse of goal on 72 minutes McNeil was there again with a sensational stop to flick the ball wide.
After Lewis Toshney bundled fellow full-back Paul Dixon’s deep cross wide at the far post, you just knew it was going to be Morton’s night.
And when the final whistle blew after over four minutes of stoppage time there was a rousing guttural roar of pure emotion that shook Cappielow to its core. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if they made it through to the final.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 17. Russell
18. McDonagh 10. Lindsay 8. Forbes 9. Oyenuga
7. Oliver 24. Quitongo
Subs used: McAleer (for Oyenuga, 75), Nesbitt (for Quitongo, 81), and Tiffoney (for Oliver, 90+3).
Subs not used: Scullion, Strapp, Gaston (gk).
Booked: McDonagh (75), Forbes (90+1).
Dundee United (4231): Bell; Toshney, Van der Struijk (Donaldson, 76), Edjenguele, Dixon; Murdoch, Fraser (Murray, 65); Spittal, Van der Velden, Obadeyi (Coote, 83); Smith.
Subs not used: Dillon, Robson, Smith, Zwick (gk),
Booked: Van der Struijk (59), Edjenguele (69).
Referee: Andrew Dallas
Images: David Bell