Morton recorded a creditable 0-0 draw with league leaders Hibs at Easter Road last night to move above Falkirk into second place in the Ladbrokes Championship for the first time this term.
The match ended in controversy when Kudus Oyenuga’s late tackle on Jordon Forster was punished with a red card as well as sparking a melee that saw Darren McGregor sent off and both managers sent to the stand.
But that should not detract from what was a highly impressive Ton performance at the home of the table toppers in front of a partisan crowd numbering in excess of 14,000.
What made it all the more commendable was the fact that the Greenock men arrived in the capital off the back of a home defeat against Dunfermline Athletic – their first there in just under a year.
Ton boss Jim Duffy admitted to being ‘extremely disappointed’ with the perplexing Pars performance and made two changes to his starting line-up.
Out went skipper Lee Kilday, who failed a pre-match fitness test due to the ankle injury sustained on Saturday, and striker Lawrence Shankland to be replaced by Ricki Lamie and Michael Tidser.
Midfielder Tidser was deployed on the left-hand side of the four with Aidan Nesbitt pushed up through the centre alongside frontman Gary Oliver.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon stated before the game that he felt a victory would put his side in a very commanding position with five or six games left to play.
And they came out with all guns blazing in the early stages with that end in mind, Scotland international John McGinn cracking the base of the left-hand post with a stinging drive after just 40 seconds.
The Ton’s response was positive, and they quickly forced a series of corners, while McGregor was required to throw his body in front of Jamie Lindsay’s angled drive ahead of goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
Marciano was tested for the first time on 13 minutes when Andy Murdoch rifled a daisycutter straight down the Hibs custodian’s throat.
The hosts began to take control of the encounter again around the quarter-hour mark in what would prove a busy spell for Derek Gaston.
On 16 minutes, the 29-year-old darted off his line to deflect a Jason Cummings flick wide after McGinn had found his team-mate with cute clipped pass round the back.
He was then beaten to James Keatings’ flat cross from the left by striker Grant Holt and breathed a sigh of relief as the hitman’s header flashed beyond the upright.
Right midfielder Martin Boyle was proving a menace down the visitors’ left flank, but Lindsay and then Gaston did well to nullify the danger after the wideman cleaved a path into the box.
There is a reason why Morton are at the top end of the table, though, and they too were looking accomplished, playing measured football in the middle of the park when in possession.
They were also threatening to be incisive at the top end, and Nesbitt and Oliver combined to cut Hibs open and win a corner on the half hour.
The away support jumped to their feet believing Thomas O’Ware’s powerful header from Forbes’ inswinging flag-kick was destined for the back of the net but it narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Duffy’s side were enjoying a spell of dominance, and Tidser and Forbes both tried their luck from just outside the box, with the latter going closest with a wicked, swerving strike that whistled just past the right-hand upright.
The league leaders upped the ante in the second half, but were met with a wall of resistance by an incredibly well-drilled and disciplined Morton side.
In defence, O’Ware really lived up to his billing of being ‘here, there and everywhere’. A tower of strength, he and partner Lamie repelled everything that came near their goal.
And when any of Keatings or Boyle’s crosses evaded them, Gaston was on hand to pluck the ball out of the air and relieve the pressure.
The defensive unit were ably support by the midfield, with Lindsay back to his best after a dip in form against Dunfermline at the weekend.
Tactically astute Celtic loanee Lindsay must have covered every blade of grass as he plugged gaps, made interceptions and blocks and covered for his team-mates.
Right-back Doyle, too, was incessant in his running, and two lung-bursting sprints to chase down what would have been lost causes to anyone else had to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Hibs head coach Lennon decided to make a switch and sent on Brian Graham in place of Holt as he stepped up his search for that elusive goal.
Former Ton striker Graham came within inches of making that breakthrough 10 minutes after joining the fray, meeting Keatings’ cross with a glancing header that shaved the post.
Duffy made a change of his own, bringing on Oyenuga in place of Forbes on 85 minutes, and the Englishman would see red in the fourth minute of stoppage time for his late tackle on Forster.
The aftermath saw McGregor follow him to the dressing room for his reaction to the challenge, which was followed by a fracas involving the benches that saw both bosses dismissed by whistler Walsh.
After five minutes of stoppage time and one last unfruitful Hibs attack, the man in the middle brought an end to a dramatic evening in the capital.
The small but vocal travelling support treated their team to a rousing round of applause in appreciation of a fantastic team performance, something that should not be forgotten amidst the accompanying furore.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 3. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 21. Murdoch 10. Lindsay 12. Tidser
11. Nesbitt 7. Oliver
Subs used: 9. Oyenuga (for Forbes, 85), and 16. Shankland (for Oliver, 90).
Subs not used: 14. Scullion, 37. Tiffoney, 39. Strapp, 30. McGowan (gk).
Booked: Lamie (56), Doyle (69), Lindsay (90+2).
Sent Off: Oyenuga (90+4), Duffy (90+5).
Hibernian (422): Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon (Forster, 87), Stevenson; Boyle, McGinn, Bartley, Keatings; Holt (Graham, 66), Cummings (McGeouch, 87).
Subs not used: Fyvie, McLean, Martin, Laidlaw (GK) .
Booked: Bartley (44), Graham (90+6).
Sent Off: McGregor (90+5), Lennon (90+6).
Referee: Nick Walsh
Images: David Bell