Keatings (65), McDonald (83) – McHugh (75)
Morton looked to have claimed a hard-fought point away at Dundee United today until Scott McDonald popped up with a late winner for the Arabs.
Jim Duffy’s men were on course for a share of the spoils when substitute Bob McHugh, who came on after Jai Quitongo was forced off with a tight hamstring, scored on 75 minutes to cancel out James Keatings’ opener
But Australian international McDonald forced the ball over the line seven minutes from time to edge Ray McKinnon’s men back in front.
Ton’s frustration was magnified at the death when Robert Thomson’s injury-time header appeared to be blocked by a home arm but was missed by referee Alan Muir and the hosts held on for the win.
The Sinclair Street side were on the right end of the same scoreline away at Queen of the South seven days earlier, and manager Duffy made two changes to the team that defeated the Doonhamers.
Andy Murdoch and Robert Thomson, both fully fit again following a calt strain and chest infection respectively, were restored to the starting line-up in place of Connor McManus and Gary Harkins after missing out last week.
Goalkeeper Derek Gaston came in for praise for his performance at Palmerston, and he played a crucial part in sending his side in on level terms at Tannadice.
On 23 minutes, the 30-year-old propelled his considerable frame to his left to gets two hands to ex-Cappielow loanee Paul McMullan’s stinging drive and push wide of the target.
He then survived a couple of scares when Fraser Fyvie’s well-struck drive swung just past the right post, and Keatings slipped a shot a whisker wide of the same upright after McMullan had put him with a scooped pass.
United were enjoying a spell of sustained pressure, and Gaston produced his premier save when he sprung to his right to prevent Keatings’ header back across him from nestling in the net with a breathtaking parry.
The Ton closed the half on the front foot – their best effort being Ross Forbes curled shot that was just off target – but would have been more than pleased to go in goalless at half-time nonetheless.
Just as he had against Queens, in-form frontman Jai Quitongo was proving a handful for the opposition, and his searing pace presented him with a huge chance to break the deadlock just after the hour.
Chasing Ricki Lamie’s long ball over the top, he outmuscled and outpaced Dundee United defender Stewart Murdoch, who replaced the injured Lewis Toshney in the first half, to go clear on goal.
But the bouncing ball just didn’t quite settle ahead of his attempt to steer past an advancing Harry Lewis and the Southampton loan goalkeeper made a key block.
Quitongo had already been seen clutching his hamstring prior to this incident and immediately signalled to the bench that he would need to be replaced after feeling it tighten as he sprinted clear under pressure.
It would prove to be an ill-fated spell as Ton not only lost one of their principal attacking threats but also fell behind in the space of three minutes.
Former Hibs frontman Keatings was the scorer, thrashing a left-footed volley into the net despite a touch from Gaston after McDonald and then McMullan had caught the visiting defence out with consecutive deft flicks.
Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, Morton rallied and levelled with quarter of an hour remaining, sub McHugh stabbing home after Lamie had nodded Forbes’ superb inswinging free-kick down into the danger area.
It was a predatory finish from the former Motherwell and Falkirk forward and took him onto five goals for the season and edged him back in front of Thomson as the Ton’s top scorer.
Unfortunately, the joy was relatively shortlived as United striker McDonald would score with just seven minutes remaining to restore his side’s lead.
The 34-year-old pounced to force the ball over the line after Mark Durnan had headed a Billy King cross against the base of the post and the rebound broke kindly for him.
Again Ton refused to give up the ghost, and Under-20s top scorer Ben Armour made a positive impression off the bench in his 10 minutes on the park, asking serious questions of the opposition in the final third.
They were left nursing a sense of injustice at full-time when, in the first minute of injury time, Thomson’s powerful header was blocked by Murdoch’s raised, and unnaturally positioned, left arm.
Even the Dundee United official Twitter feed conceded that the visitors had a ‘strong claim for a penalty’, but a spot-kick was not forthcoming and the Cappielow club went home empty handed despite their admirable efforts.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 3. Murdoch 12. Tidser 10. Thomson
Subs used: 11. McHugh (for Quitongo, 62), 22. Armour (for Oliver, 80), and 14. Harkins (for Forbes, 86).
Subs not used: 15. Tiffoney, 18. McManus, 21. Langan, 20. Doohan (gk).
Booked: Doyle (51).
Dundee United (442): Lewis; Toshney (Murdoch, 28), Durnan, Edjenguele, Robson; King, Briels (Stanton, 81), Fyvie, McMullan; McDonald, Keatings (N’Koyi, 81).
Subs not used: Flood, Allardice, Smith, Mehmet (gk).
Booked: McDonald (89).
Referee: Alan Muir
Attendance: 5,569 (339 away fans)
Image: David Bell