O’Ware (7) – Murray (50), Spittal (65)
Morton lost 2-1 to Dundee United in the first leg of the Premiership promotion play-off in a real game of two halves at Cappielow last night.
The Ton stormed out of the blocks and took an early lead through prolific defender Thomas O’Ware, but the Tangerines responded in kind after the break.
Goals from Simon Murray and Blair Spittal turned the game entirely on its head and left Jim Duffy’s men requiring a win at Tannadice on Friday night in the return leg.
The return will be the third and final clash between the clubs in the space of six days, and the Ton gaffer made five changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Ray McKinnon’s man at the weekend.
Out went Bryn Halliwell, Michael Doyle, Lewis Strapp, Jon Scullion and scorer Kudus Oyenuga to be replaced by Derek Gaston, Jamie Lindsay, Michael Tidser, Gary Oliver and Lawrence Shankland.
And Shankland provided the assist for the opening goal with a patented long throw from high on the right after a slick exchange involving Andy Murdoch and Oliver forced a Dundee United defender to clear into touch.
The striker launched a shy into the area at a trajectory that was perfect for O’Ware to go and attack and power a forceful header beyond Bell’s despairing dive to his right to give his side the lead and net his 11th of the campaign.
Morton were steamrollering over the visitors at this stage, and Michael Tidser came within the width of the woodwork with a stunning, swerving strike from distance that cracked the crossbar.
The Cowshed was rocking and the noise reached a crescendo when Forbes looked to have sent Shankland clear on goal only for William Edjenguele to cover across, clear the danger and briefly suppress the roar of the crowd.
They almost had cause to celebrate on 24 minutes when Lindsay picked Oliver’s near-post run with a low cross, but the forward’s swept shot was blocked by Bell.
There were then howls of derision from the home support just after the half hour as they appealed for a penalty in unison following Edjenguele’s clumsy foul on Oliver just inside the box. Referee Willie Collum, though, waved play on.
Although Dundee United began to present more of an attacking threat in the closing stages of the half, they could find no real way through a resilient Ton backline, with O’Ware, in particular, a rock.
One clearance in which the PFA Scotland Championship Team of the Year member thundered out from the backline like a juggernaut to head away over the Thomas Mikkelsen was symptomatic of the commitment on show.
McKinnon must have read his side the riot act at the break, though, because they came out for the second half supercharged and scored twice inside 20 minutes.
Frontman Simon Murray levelled things up within five minutes of the restart with a wonder goal at which he worked space just outside the Ton box and whipped an unstoppable shot into the postage-stamp top corner.
Ton keeper Gaston did well to push a Willo Flood drive around the post shortly afterwards, but he was beaten by a Spittal drive into the bottom-left corner on 65 minutes as the visitors edged in front.
If the first half was all about the Sinclair Street side, the second period belonged to Dundee United, and they walked away from Greenock holding a one-goal advantage heading into the second leg.
It’s only half-time, though, and Duffy and his side now head to the City of Discovery knowing they have to win at Tannadice to have a chance of reaching the semi-final stage.
18. McDonagh 4. O’Ware (c) 3. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 21. Murdoch 10. Lindsay 12. Tidser
16. Shankland 7. Oliver
Subs used: 6. Doyle (for Forbes, 76), 9. Oyenuga (for Shankland, 81), and 37. Tiffoney (for Tidser, 90+1).
Subs not used: 14. Scullion, 39. Strapp, 30. McGowan (GK).
Booked: O’Ware (80).
Dundee United (4231): Bell (c); Murdoch, Durnan, Donaldson, Robson; Kuate, Flood; Spittal, Andreu, Murray (Coote, 90+2); Mikkelsen (Allardice, 84).
Subs not used: Dixon, Donaldson, Nicholls, Telfer, Zwick (gk),
Booked: Kuate (58), Murray (70).
Referee: Willie Collum
Attendance: 3,306 (666 away fans)
Image: David Bell