O’Ware (73), Oliver (89) – Nisbet (37)
A dramatic last-minute winner from Gary Oliver saw Morton come from behind to beat Ayr United at Cappielow this afternoon and leapfrog their opponents into sixth place in the process.
Partick Thistle loan striker Kevin Nisbet gave the Honest Men the lead shortly before the break but Jim Duffy’s men showed tremendous character over the course of a scintillating second half.
Despite suffering the sting of seeing a sensational Aidan Nesbitt strike ruled out for a harsh offside, the Sinclair Street side still had the fortitude to score twice in final 17 minutes through Thomas O’Ware and then Oliver to claim all three points.
Today’s team, which stretched their winning run to three league matches, showed three changes to the starting XI that performed so admirably against Aberdeen seven days earlier.
Influential midfielder Ross Forbes was restored to the team after serving his Betfred Cup semi-final suspension and deployed on the right-hand side, while Ricki Lamie replaced the injured Gavin Gunning in central defence.
Jamie McDonagh dropped back one to right-back and was preferred there ahead of Michael Doyle in a tactical switch designed to take advantage of Ayr’s narrow midfield, and Nesbitt was brought in at the expense of Kudus Oyenuga.
The first 45 was a fairly lacklustre affair which was shaded by a visiting side set up to hit talismanic frontman Gary Harkins at every opportunity and look for him to conjure up a moment of magic.
Talented Greenock native Harkins was causing problems as he floated across the frontline and probed at the home defence whilst also competing in some titanic aerial tussles with Lamie.
The Ton were struggling to make much headway in at attacking sense, and it was during a sluggish attempt to push forward that they were caught out on the counter-attack on 37 minutes.
Ross Docherty won the ball in the middle of the park and fed Nisbet pulling away to the left. No one in blue and white shut him down in time and the frontman curled a precise angled finish past Andy McNeil and into the net via the right post.
If one moment summed up the contrast in fortunes between this opening half and recent outings was the sight of Forbes firing a weak free-kick straight into the wall in stoppage time instead of into the net as has been the recent standard set.
Manager Duffy made a tweak to his team at half-time as he attempted to turn things around, bringing Forbes into the middle and moving Andy Murdoch to the right.
It was a switch that helped set the tone for Ton, but the real momentum shift came due to a deep sense of injustice caused by the officials’ controversial decision to disallow a Nesbitt wonderstrike on 67 minutes.
The Celtic loanee thrashed a thunderous volley into the net from 18 yards after a Forbes free-kick was headed out to him on the edge of the box.
But in a series of events that recalled a Chris Templeman ‘goal’ at Hamilton in October 2007, the Ton players were able to celebrate the strike and then prepare to set up to kick-off before the rug was pulled out from under them.
The Cowshed linesman had raised his flag, based on his view that Jai Quitongo had been in an offside position and interfered with Ayr goalkeeper Greg Fleming’s ability to save the strike.
Either way, the home team felt wronged by the call and turned the screw as they redoubled their efforts to get back on level terms – and it took them just six more minutes.
In a now familiar turn of events, skipper O’Ware was the scorer and Forbes the provider, the former rising to meet the latter’s outswinging corner with a downwards header that squeezed past Docherty on the line.
Incredibly, it was the 23-year-old’s fifth goal of the season, despite the fact he is a defender and we are still in October, and means he is just one behind top scorer Quitongo.
And only the frame of the goal prevented him from drawing level with the teenage dangerman at a half dozen in the 87th minute when he powered another header against the woodwork after meeting Oliver’s cross.
Everyone inside Cappielow, barring the away contingent of course, held their breath as the ball agonisingly kissed the top of the crossbar and bounced over.
But there would be one more chance for Morton to claim the victory, and it was Oliver who made himself the hero by bagging the winner in the final minute of regulation time.
Jamie Lindsay found substitute Jon Scullion with a sublime first-time, half-volleyed pass into feet and the diminutive frontman matched the technique with a cute clip round the corner to release the Ton No.7.
Oliver had just one thought in mind and, ignoring Quitongo in support to his left, looked to slot the ball under the advancing Fleming only to see the keeper make a heart-stopping block.
Fortunately, the rebound was kind and left the frontman with the simple task of stabbing into the empty net to complete a terrific turnaround on a remarkable afternoon at Cappielow.
18. McDonagh 4. O’Ware (c) 3. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 11. Nesbitt
7. Oliver 24. Quitongo
Subs used: 14. Scullion (for Murdoch, 70), 9. Oyenuga (for Nesbitt, 90), and 6. Doyle (for Oliver, 90+3).
Subs not used: 16. McAleer, 22. Orr, 39. Strapp, 30. McGowan (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (90+3), McDonagh (90+4).
Ayr United (4132): Fleming; Devlin (c), Balatoni, Murphy, Meggatt; Docherty; Gilmour, Adams (Crawford, 52), Cairney (Donald, 70); Nisbet (Forrest, 70), Harkins.
Subs not used: Boyle, O’Connell, McGuffie, Hart (gk).
Booked: Adams (17), Devlin (66), Harkins (76), Crawford (84).
Referee: Mat Northcroft
Image (main): David Bell
Images (inset): Gary Bradley