McKenzie (30) – Lamie (90+2)
Morton gave 2016 a send-off to remember after Ricki Lamie rescued a Renfrewshire derby draw for Jim Duffy’s 10-man team with an injury-time equaliser at the Paisley 2021 Stadium yesterday.
It was deep into the 92nd minute that the defender lashed home a loose ball inside the Saints box to cancel out Gary McKenzie’s first-half opener and spark wild scenes of celebration on the park and in the North Stand.
Although the last-gasp strike was only worth a point, it felt more like a victory coming so late in the day with the Ton at a man disadvantage after Jamie McDonagh’s dismissal and after losing Gary Oliver to a sickening facial injury.
It certainly sent the Greenock hordes, numbering an impressive 1,362 amongst an attendance of 4,902, home happy, teeing up that night’s Hogmanay celebrations.
Ton travelled to Paisley in buoyant mood, having won the last county clash back in November to end a 17-year wait for a win over the Saints, as well as having lost just one of their last nine fixtures in all competitions.
The most recent outing saw them reclaim third place in the Ladbrokes Championship with a 1-0 win over Queen of the South on Christmas Eve.
Gaffer Duffy made two changes to the team that despatched the Doonhamers, the first of which was to restore Derek Gaston between the sticks after he’d recovered from a virus in place of Andy McNeil.
The other was a tactical change that the Ton boss deploys in specific games whereby he brings Lamie in at left-back and pushes Mark Russell forward one, with Aidan Nesbitt dropping out of the left midfield berth on this occasion.
Ross Forbes and Thomas O’Ware have been two mainstays of the team this term, and their deadly set-play prowess was picked out as key by their manager after they combined for the winner against Queens last weekend.
And when Forbes won and lined up a free-kick in a central position 25 yards out and O’Ware and the other aerial threats were sent up, the away support began chanting ‘He’s here, he’s there …’ in anticipation of the defender getting on the end of the delivery.
The midfielder, though, used the expectation as a decoy and attempted to catch out keeper Scott Gallacher with a direct attempt at goal, but his drive was well off target on this occasion.
Three minutes later, Forbes went back to the tried and tested when presented with another free-kick wide on the right, dropping the ball in at the back post where Gallacher claimed just ahead of the inrushing O’Ware.
The Saints shot-stopper made a hash of dealing with a Forbes free-kick on 13 minutes, weakly punching down to Gavin Gunning, who arched sideways and hooked a volley back at goal and narrowly wide.
Jack Ross’s side came into things as the half progressed, and lone striker John Sutton went close with a header in which he snapped his body like an ironing board to generate power when meeting Lewis Morgan’s clipped cross.
Gary Irvine picked out the hitman with another cross on the half hour, and this time Gaston was required to flip the ball over the bar for a corner after the header bounced down off the turf and threatened to loop into the net behind the custodian.
It was from the resultant flag-kick that the Saints edged in front, with the unmarked 6ft 4in defender Gary McKenzie meeting Stevie Mallan’s drilled corner with a bullet header that left Gaston with no chance.
Ton pushed for a leveller in the remaining quarter hour of the first half, and Russell forced a smart stop from Gallacher with a stinging shot following neat approach play from Jamie McDonagh.
It was no surprise that it was from another Forbes dead-ball delivery that they went closest to levelling, Lamie backheading his floated free-kick on over the stranded Gallacher and against the face of the crossbar in the 45th minute.
If that was agonising in a figurative sense then Gary Oliver’s experienced it in a very literal way when he got his head on the end of the rebound to send the ball back towards goal only to see it saved as well as taking a full force kick to the face from Gary Irvine.
It was accidental, no doubt, but how the officials missed the incident is hard to fathom, as was the fact they allowed play to rage on despite the fact the Ton striker had taken a blow to the head and left with a bloodied nose.
Oliver was left with a swollen face and disoriented by the incident, and did not remerge after the break, with Kudus Oyenuga coming in in his stead.
After losing one of their top performers, they were then dealt a further blow then McDonagh was sent off for a connecting with Rocco Quinn’s head with his boot in a moment of madness that looked likely to have ended their chances of salvaging the match.
But then in an incredibly inspiring show of unity, the remaining Morton players huddled together and began cajoling and encouraging each other to dig deep with passionate gesticulations and war-cry like shouting.
It really was impressive to witness and something the massed ranks behind the goal clearly noticed too as they rallied to the cause by cranking up the volume to back their team to hilt and roar them on against the odds.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the visitors took the game by the scruff of the neck and forced the Saints onto the back foot and to drop deeper and deeper towards their own goal to protect their slim lead.
Just when it looked like the game might have got away from the Greenock outfit, a Forbes corner broke for Lamie inside the box and the left-back drilled an emphatic finish low into the net to send Morton into 2017 on an exhilarating high.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Gunning 3. Lamie
8. Forbes 10. Lindsay 21. Murdoch 17. Russell
18. McDonagh 7. Oliver
Subs used: 9. Oyenuga (for Oliver, 46), 11. Nesbitt (for Lindsay, 74) and 12. Tidser (for Murdoch, 79).
Subs not used: 2. Kilday, 14. Scullion, 39. Strapp, 20. McNeil (gk).
Booked: Lindsay (11), Forbes (56).
Sent Off: McDonagh (60).
St Mirren (442): Gallacher; Naismith, Webster (c), McKenzie, Irvine; Quinn (McLear, 61); McAllister (Gallagher, 88), Mallan, Maggenis (Clarkson, 71), Morgan; Sutton.
Subs not used: Baird, Hardie, Shankland, Langfield (gk).
Booked: Clarkson (74), Naismith (82).
Referee: Nick Walsh
Attendance: 4,902 (1,362 away fans)
Images (main and inset): David Bell
Image (inset): Gary Bradley