Morton and Dundee United shared a goalless draw as the sides sat third and second in the Ladbrokes Championship clashed at Cappielow this afternoon.
Despite the stalemate this was a fascinating and at times pulsating 90 minutes in which the teams cancelled each other out for the most part before sponsors’ man of the match Derek Gaston produced a hat-trick of fine saves to claim a valuable point.
The share of the spoils saw the Ton extend their unbeaten run to seven league matches and preserve a home record that has seen them avoid defeat on Sinclair Street since losing 1-0 to Raith Rovers way back on Saturday 26 March.
They were on the road last week, recording an impressive 2-0 win at Dumbarton, and manager Jim Duffy made just two changes to the team that beat the Sons, one enforced and one through choice.
Jamie McDonagh, suspended after accumulating six bookings, was replaced by Michael Doyle at right-back, while the fully fit Jai Quitono was restored to the starting line-up ahead of Kudus Oyenuga.
Dundee United are also in a rich vein of form, though, and started the brighter. Charlie Telfer showed a sign of intent with a dipping shot from distance that whistled narrowly over Derek Gaston’s bar with less than a minute on the clock.
The visitors kept up the pressure for most of the first quarter hour, dominating possession in the middle of the pitch – but more often than not they were forced to recycle in the face of relentless Ton pressing.
Duffy’s side grew into the game and began to offer more of an attacking threat from around 17 minutes onwards when Gary Oliver saw a shot from tight to the bye-line deflected into the side-netting
Ross Forbes then tried his luck shortly afterwards, using his wand-like left peg to fizz in an inswinging shot that had Dundee United defenders desperately throwing themselves at the ball in an attemt to head clear.
But in the face of those distractions, namely William Edjenguele’s failed diving header attempt and an evil bounce off the slick surface right in front of him, Cammy Bell did well to claim cleanly.
Ton were soaking up pressure and then looking to hit on the counter-attack by using Quitongo’s pace down the channels, and the hot property was beggining to look menancing.
On 23 minutes, he burst into the box and prodded back into the path of Andy Murdoch arriving 25 yards out, but the midfielder’s daisycutter lacked punch and Bell dived to his right to smother.
Scotland Under-21 cap Quitongo was less than happy at his treatment five minutes later, picking up a caution for throwing the ball at Mark Durnan following a reckless scissors slide tackle that took out the ball and then the man.
Try as they might, Ray McKinnon’s Tangerines were struggling to find a way through the home defence, with everything breaking down on the edge of the area in the face of two rigid and organised banks of four.
On the one occasion they managed to open up their opponents and get in behind, Simon Murray pushed a weak left-footed shot straight at Gaston after breaking clear down the inside-left channel.
With their frustration growing, they began peppering the Wee Dublin End goal with shots from distance, and while Tony Andreu hit the target from 25 yards, forcing a smart save from Gaston, Willo Flood sent a wild effort swinging out for a throw in.
Flood was also involved in the final piece of notable action of the first half, making an error in his own box on which Quitongo pounced but pushed the ball too close to the bye-line and flashed a shot across the face of goal with the outside of his right boot.
Morton were quick out the blocks after the break, and Jamie Lindsay could well have broken the deadlock had he managed to get more elevation on a curled effort that he carved out after a clever turn inside the box.
Mark Russell was in scintillating form for the Ton, and his mesemerizing footwork saw him fashion an opening, but his low drive was well taken by Bell despire the greasy surface and a slight deflection.
United’s loan star Andreu made the difference when the sides met at Tannadice last time out, and the Norwich midfielder looked the man most likely to do so again as they began to up the ante in the last half hour.
It was the 28-year-old who picked out Scott Fraser with the teasing cross from which he forced a stunning reflex save from Gaston with a powerful side-foot volley.
Andreu then pulled wide from a promising position 20 yards out before passing up a huge chance on 77 minutes when he saw his stabbed shot superbly parried by the Ton custodian on 77 minutes.
And although it wasn’t to deny the influential Frenchman, Gaston produced another sensational stop three minutes from time when he blocked Jamie Robson’s close range piledriver with his feet to seal the shutout and an admirable point for his side.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 3. Lamie
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 17. Russell
7. Oliver 24. Quitongo
Subs used: 9. Oyenuga (for Quitongo, 74), and 12. Tidser (for Murdoch, 80).
Subs not used: 11. Nesbitt, 16. McAleer, 39. Strapp, 20. McNeil (gk).
Booked: Quitongo (28).
Dundee United (4231): Bell; Van der Struijk (Toshney, 62), Durnan, Edjenguele, Robson; Flood, Telfer; Fraser, Andreu (Smith, 84), Spittal; Murray (Van der Velden, 71).
Subs not used: Dillon, Donaldson, Obadeyi, Zwick (gk),
Booked: Andreu (51).
Referee: Crawford Allan
Images: David Bell