McHugh (14, 90+2), Quitongo (54), Thomson (73, 79)
Rampant Morton recorded an impressive 5-0 win over Edinburgh City at Cappielow this afternoon, but the victory wasn’t enough to secure safe passage out of Betfred Cup Group F.
Doubles from Bob McHugh and Robert Thomson and Jai Quitongo’s first goal since netting against Queen of the South last October secured second place in the section.
However, results elsewhere meant that, despite leapfrogging Queen’s Park to finish behind Motherwell, the Ton would not progress as one of the top four best runners-up.
The hosts went in to the match knowing that they had to beat League Two Edinburgh City, the SPFL’s newest addition following their promotion at the end of the 2015/16 campaign, to have any hope.
They also knew they would have to achieve success minus a half dozen key players in Thomas O’Ware, Lee Kilday, Ricki Lamie, Darren Barr, Gary Oliver and the suspended Gary Harkins.
With so many defenders missing through injury, Duffy was forced to go with a makeshift pairing of midfielder Connor McManus and debutant Jack Iredale, signed just 48 hours earlier following a trial stint.
As a result, the Cappielow gaffer decided that attack would be the best form of defence, and he returned to the 4-3-3 formation used in matches against Berwick and Queen’s Park in order to take the game to the opposition.
And that they did, from virtually the first whistle to the last, with Edinburgh City goalkeeper Calum Antell forced to earn his corn despite picking the ball out of his net five times.
The shot-stopper would conduct something of a personal duel with menacing home hitman McHugh over the course of the afternoon, starting as early as the second minute when he caught a volley at his near post.
His task was made all the harder when, on 13 minutes, former Scotland international striker Craig Beattie, playing as an auxiliary centre-half, was forced off injured.
Beattie was replaced by Scott McBeath, who immediately went to right-back while ex-Ton development defender David Verlaque moved inside one to a central defensive berth.
The makeshift back four conceded within seconds, McHugh pouncing to sweep into the net after Iredale had headed Ross Forbes’ clipped outswinging corner down into the danger area.
Although they weren’t overly stretched besides a five-minute spell midway through the first half, Iredale and McManus offered enough here to suggest that they will be worthy additions to the squad.
The vast majority of the action, though, was focused at the opposite end. Thomson’s aerial prowess was beginning to come to the fore as the hosts peppered the box with crosses, both in open play and from set-pieces.
And after a few close things, he found the net with a textbook downwards header from a Forbes free-kick that bounced up and out of the reach of a clawing Antell into the top left corner.
The standside assistant’s flag went up, however, to rule the ‘goal’ out for offside, eventually bringing an end to the celebrations of the women getting into the spirit of things as part of the special ladies day hospitality.
Morton continued to carve out opportunities, with Antell proving a one-man roadblock as he singlehandedly kept out the likes of McHugh and Thomson on numerous occasions to keep the score down to 1-0 at half-time.
It couldn’t and wouldn’t last, though, and Morton doubled their advantage nine minutes after the break through teenage striker Quitongo.
The Scotland Under-21 cap went short to accept a Forbes corner into feet, backheeled to send the midfielder down the line before receiving a return in space and slotting a left-foot shot into the net from eight yards.
Jai celebrated with his customary cartwheel and somersault combo, last seen in the 5-0 win at Queen of the South on 15 October 2016, and there seemed to be a sense of joy and relief at getting back on the scoresheet.
Unsurprisingly, the source of the third goal, scored by Thomson on 73 minutes in what was the former Sons striker’s first for the club, was another Forbes deadball delivery.
The playmaker, deployed at the heart of the midfield three, sent over a spiralling corner from the Cowshed side that the towering targetman did well to direct down into the net with a side header.
Thomson is far more than a 6ft 2in battering ram, though, and he underlined the fact he is just as useful with the ball at his feet by firing a measured left-foot finish inside the left post from 20 yards in the 79th minute.
Duffy introduced three teenagers towards the end, sending on Scott Tiffoney, Ruaridh Langan, who was making his first appearance for the senior team, and Lewis Strapp.
And winger Tiffoney laid on the fifth and final goal for McHugh in the second minute of stoppage time with an intelligent defence-splitting pass.
The former Falkirk frontman had been a real threat all afternoon and he oozed confidence as he took on the shot without breaking his stride, curling a classy finish over Antell into the top-right corner.
Although Morton wouldn’t be in the hat for the second round draw, the polished performance, proliferation of goals and a shutout are all positives to take into next weekend’s league opener at Dumbarton.
6. Doyle 18. McManus 26. Iredale 17. Russell
3. Murdoch 8. Forbes 12. Tidser (c)
10. Thomson 11. McHugh 9. Quitongo
Subs used: 15. Tiffoney (for Quitongo, 74), 21. Langan (for Forbes, 81), and 16. Strapp (for Russell, 76).
Subs not used: 22. Armour, 30. McGowan (gk).
Edinburgh City (442): Antell; Verlaque, Beattie (McBeath, 14), Harrison, Caddow; Glackin, Walker (c), Laird, Olanrewaju; Grimes (Barfoot, 72), Smith (Downie, 64).
Subs not used: Rodger, Morton (gk).
Booked: Walker (30), Glackin (65), Laird (82).
Referee: Mike Roncone
Images: David Bell