Clark (3), Moffat (51), McCabe (85) – Shankland (37)
Morton’s final position in the 2016/17 Ladbrokes Championship was confirmed today after a 3-1 loss at Dunfermline Athletic ensured they would finish fourth in the table.
Lawrence Shankland scored his second goal in successive outings to cancel out Nicky Clark’s opener but Michael Moffat and Rhys McCabe both netted after the break to claim all three points for the Pars.
Ton travelled through to Fife with an outside chance of still climbing above both Dundee United and Falkirk depending on a favourable run of results.
However, the defeat combined with the other clubs’ draws ensured a fourth-place finish. This, though, not only stands as an improvement on last term’s impressive performance but can also be considered a fantastic achievement in its own right.
Jim Duffy’s men had booked their play-off berth after last weekend’s draw with Ayr United, and with that settled, the gaffer elected to freshen up his team.
The likes of Thomas O’Ware, Ross Forbes, Andy Murdoch and Aidan Nesbitt were handed well-earned breaks and were replaced by Lewis Strapp, Jamie McDonagh, Jamie Lindsay and Scott Tiffoney.
The team took to the field resplendent in the new red tartan away kit, which will be worn on Ton’s travels next term, ahead of its upcoming launch.
Unfortunately, the game got off to the worst possible start when Dunfermline opened the scoring after just three minutes, at the third time of asking.
Derek Gaston parried Michael Moffat’s initial effort then Clark followed up and volleyed against the crossbar from point-blank range – but the ball rebounded kindly for the hitman, who had the simple task of tapping home.
Ton responded by forcing a series of corners, with Tiffoney and Michael Tidser delivering from opposite sides and causing panic in the home box, albeit to no avail.
Youth academy product Tiffoney was also posing problems in open play, and he fizzed in a low centre that Gary Oliver stretched out to stab towards goal.
The attempt looked set to sneak inside the left-hand post until Pars goalkeeper Sean Murdoch pounced on the ball to prevent it crossing the line.
Tiffoney and full-back Strapp have worked in tandem to excellent effect down the left flank for the Under-20s this term, and they were bringing to the top team.
Dunoon native Strapp was next to worry the hosts, driving down the left and drilling in a low delivery that required Murdoch to scramble clear.
The ball eventually broke back out to the 17-year-old as he retreated, and he unleashed a fierce drive that Murdoch did superbly well to scoop out down to his right.
Morton were in the ascendancy but the Pars came within a Gaston foot of doubling their advantage, the shot-stopper shooting out a leg to deny Ryan Williamson after he wriggled into the box down the right.
However, the Ton managed to find the equaliser they deserved based on the balance of play on 37 minutes. Hitman Shankland was the scorer, steering a controlled header inside the right-hand post after Ricki Lamie had flicked on Strapp’s long throw.
It was the Aberdeen loanee’s second goal in successive outings, and he looked full of confidence when he expertly checked inside a challenge and picked out Michael Doyle with a precise clipped cross to the far post.
Inrushing full-back Doyle volleyed into the ground and his effort looked net-bound until Jason Talbot popped up on the line to head over the bar for a vital intervention.
It was given added signifcance when Dunfermline came out and retook the lead six minutes after the restart through frontman Moffat.
Ton will have been particularly disappointed with the ease in which the Pars scored, with Kallum Higginbotham pushing a low cross along the six-yard line for his team-mate to slide in and force into the net.
The visitors sought out a second equaliser but their efforts will ultimately in vain, and midfielder McCabe wrapped up a home win with a deflected drive five minutes from time.
A 3-1 scoreline was not a fair reflection of the 90 minutes; this was a display in which the team showed shoots of recovery ahead of the play-offs despite the outcome on the day.
And the fact teenagers Strapp and Tiffoney got a valuable 90 minutes under their belt in addition to development squad striker Ben Armour making his debut off the bench was cause for optimism looking beyond this season.
6. Doyle 2. Kilday (c) 3. Lamie 39. Strapp
18. McDonagh 10. Lindsay 12. Tidser 37. Tiffoney
7. Oliver 16. Shankland
Subs used: 9. Oyenuga (for Doyle, 72), 14. Scullion (for Oliver, 76), and 23. Armour (for Shankland, 85).
Subs not used: 217. Russell, 19. Donnelly, 32. Mitchell, 30. McGowan (gk).
Dunfermline (442): Murdoch; Williamson, Fordyce (c), Ashcroft, Talbot; Higginbotham, McCabe, Wedderburn, McMullan (Paton, 53); Moffat (Reilly, 86), Clark (Smith, 82).
Subs not used: Cardle, Spence, Morrison, Hutton (gk).
Referee: Euan Anderson
Images: David Bell