Rooney (69), McLean (88)
A spirited Morton side fell just short of reaching their first national cup final since 1963 after conceding two second-half goals in today’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden.
After a scoreless first-half in which Jai Quitongo passed up an excellent chance to score, goals from Adam Rooney – which replays showed was offside – and Kenny McLean ended the Ton’s exciting Betfred Cup journey.
It has be taken into consideration that, not only was this the Cappielow club’s first semi-final in 35 years, but also the first occasion the vast majority of this current crop of young pros had performed on such a stage.
The enormity of the occasion seemed to get to the Greenock men during an edgy and anxious opening, and they only just survived an absolute onslaught in a fraught first five minutes.
Lee Maddison’s inswinging corners were a real source of danger, and it was from his second minute flag-kick that Kenny McLean forced Andy McNeil to make a smart one-handed block and push the ball over his bar.
They went even closer from the subsequent delivery, winger Jonny Hayes popping up inside the box to nod the Norwich City loan star’s cross against the face of the goal frame.
Duffy’s men survived another few scrapes before settling around the 20-minute mark and restricting the space enjoyed by a a Dons side that was growing increasingly frustrated and resorting to potshots from distance.
Teenager Quitongo has been the Ton talisman during this cup run, scoring against Kilmarnock, Berwick Rangers, Hamilton Accies and Dundee United, and he was presented with a chance to cement iconic status on 44 minutes.
Andy Murdoch dissected the Dons defence, slipping a precise pass inside Mark Reynolds for Quitongo, who edged ahead of the defender only to see his reverse finish blocked by the legs of 6ft 5in goalkeeper Joe Lewis.
There was a feeling that not only was it a golden opportunity missed but perhaps the key moment in the match. Had the Ton taken the lead at that juncture, just before half-time, Aberdeen might not have recovered.
In saying that, the Derek McInnes’ men could have just as easily gone in at the break leading, Rooney kissing the crest off the crossbar with a looping header from Maddison’s inswinging cross from the left in stoppage time.
The first 25 minutes or so of the second half belonged to the underdogs, though, with Quitongo fizzing a fierce, rising drive narrowly wide, attempting an acrobatic overhead kick, and sending a header off target.
Yet it was just when they seemed to be threatening to cause an upset that the Premiership outfit edged in front in controversial fashion on 69 minutes.
Midfielder Graeme Shinnie drove down the right and chopped back inside onto his favoured left foot and floated a cross to the far post.
Left-back Andy Considine was in an incredibly advanced position and headed back into the danger area for an offside Rooney to nod back across Andy McNeil into the net to break the deadlock.
A huge weight seemed to be lifted off the top0flight outfit’s shoulders whereas the Ton, by contrast, grew increasingly ragged as the game entered it’s closing stages due to a mix of fatigue and chasing the game.
Defender Gavin Gunning, exceptional throughout alongside Thomas O’Ware and behind central midfielders Jamie Lindsay and Docherty, appeared to be struggling with his recent hamstring problem.
And Northern Ireland international Nial McGinn took full advantage, dropping a shoulder to drive past him to the bye-line before unleashing an angled drive.
Cappielow custodian McNeil did well to plunge to his right to flick the ball beyond the far post, but only succeeded in touching it into the path of the inrushing McLean.
It left the former St Mirren man with the simple task of rolling into an empty to net to seal his side’s place in next month’s showpiece final.
Despite losing out, manager Duffy, assistant Craig McPherson, the staff, players, officials, and supporters can be proud of both the efforts on the day and over the course of a memorable cup run.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 17. Russell
18. McDonagh 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 9. Oyenuga
24. Quitongo 7. Oliver
Subs used: 11. Nesbitt (for Oyenuga, 72), 37. Tiffoney (for McDonagh, 77), and 2. Kilday (for Lindsay, 89).
Subs not used: 3. Lamie, 12. Tidser, 14. Scullion, 1. Gaston (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (57).
Aberdeen (4231): Lewis; Logan, O’Connor, Reynolds, Considine; McLean, Shinnie (c) (Burns, 89); McGinn (Storey, 90+2), Maddison (Jack, 85), Hayes; Rooney.
Subs not used: Pawlett, Stockley, Morris, Alexander (gk),
Booked: McGinn (47), Considine (84).
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Images: David Bell