King (61, 90+4)
Morton suffered their first loss in four Ladbrokes Championship fixtures after a Billy King brace helped league leaders Dundee United to a 2-0 win at Cappielow today.
Tangerines wideman King scored just after the hour and then again deep in stoppage time to claim all three points and inflict what is just the Ton’s second defeat in eight matches.
Jim Duffy’s side came into this Cappielow clash against the table toppers on the back of consecutive victories – a 3-0 win over Falkirk followed by a 4-1 besting over Brechin City.
The Greenock gaffer made one change to the team that triumphed against the Glebe Park outfit, replacing Scott Tiffoney with Jai Quitongo wide on the left.
Ton came into the match with wind in their sails and made a bright start in the first 20 minutes, Gary Oliver threatening to breach Harry Lewis’s goal with an angled drive that flashed just wide of the left post.
The chance came shortly after striker Robert Thomson had stood up a delicious delivery that was really calling out for someone of his own ilk to attack and head home, and so there were no takers.
Dundee United responded and the hosts survived a couple of let-offs in the openings stages, firstly with Fraser Fyvie dragging wide from a promising position after being allowed to advance too easily.
Scott McDonald’s failure to control a cute Scott Fraser through ball was crucial, and when the Australian striker did get hold of the ball and fired off a stinging drive, Derek Gaston did well to parry with the front of his wrists.
Former Hearts boss Csaba Laszlo has certainly put his own stamp on the Tannadice team in the short time he has been in charge since replacing Ray McKinnon last month.
The visitors were intent on passing out from the defence and retaining the ball, and enjoyed prolonged periods of controlled possession.
Left-footed playmaker Fraser, a talented midfielder operating in the hole adept at finding and exploiting space, was the individual capable of adding the necessary penetration to their play.
On 42 minutes, the former Airdrie loan star was a key cog in a move that saw the ball worked across the Ton box, from left to right, teeing up Fyvie, whose fierce low drive was parried by Gaston.
He then dissected the home defence with a slide-rule pass for McDonald. The hitman stabbed a powerful shot at goal, hitting the target from close-range only to see the effort crash off Gaston’s side and deflect clear.
Although the Cappielow custodian did not seem to know an awful lot about it, he was in the perfect position and the block sent the sides in goalless at the break.
Just as they had in the first half, the boys in blue and white hoops started on the front foot and only a superb reflex save from Lewis prevented them from taking the lead in the 47th minute.
Ross Forbes was the architect, whipping over a fabulous inswinging cross from the right that Thomson attacked with a diving header only to see the ball repelled by the agile Southampton loan stopper.
Oliver then sliced wide from a promosing position inside the box as Ton turned up the heat, but that failure to find the net whilst they were on top was punished by King on 61 minutes.
Despite being deployed on the left, the wideman popped on the right side of the box, accepted a Fyvie pass and, with fleet footwork, worked the space for a left-footed shot that he rifled past Gaston and inside the right post.
In what had the potential to be a game-changing moment, Quitongo passed up a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise seven minutes after falling behind, one presented to him by an awful Jamie Robson backpass.
The jet-heeled forward did superbly well to anticipate the left-back’s intentions and then beat Lewis to the ball, but poked wide of the target on the stretch as he attempted to convert.
Laszlo’s men didn’t learn their lesson and survived a similar scare by the skin of their teeth shortly afterwards, and only an unorthodox yet effective intervention by Lewis prevented Morton from getting back on level terms.
Centre-half Mark Durnan was the culprit on this occasion, putting his keeper under pressure with a pass with Thomson breathing down his neck.
His improvisational way of dealing with the situation was as impressive as it was bizarre as he dropped flat to the turf and nodded the ball back away from the Ton No.10 to Tam Scobbie.
Back at the other end, Gaston produced a piece of goalkeeping that was more at the breathtaking end of the spectrum, albeit it too had something of the unconvential about it.
Somehow, the 30-year-old managed to scoop the ball over the bar with the big toe on his right foot to prevent former team-mate Paul McMullan from scoring from four yards with the goal at his mercy.
It was an incredible stop; an opportunity that barely anyone in attendance could believe did not end up in the back of the net, not least the former Ton loan winger, who sunk to his knees in shock and horror.
Although it kept the hosts’ hopes alive with 10 minutes left to play, it would count for nothing in the end after Dundee United added a second deep into time added on.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, Gary Harkins had been his side’s standout performer on the day. His assertive display rightfully earning him sponsors’ man of the match.
And it was, therefore, regrettable the midfielder was the individual to be robbed of possession by Fyvie due to a stray first touch whilst the last man, allowing three United men to charge clear.
With a recovering Luca Gasparotto the only obstacle between them and goal, the former Hibs man picked the perfect moment to slip the ball to his left for King, who then swept past Gaston and inside the left post.
There could be little argument it was the fair outcome. Morton had simply come up a little short against a side who looked worthy of their place at the Ladbrokes Championship summit and the tag of title favourites.
6. Doyle 19. Gasparotto 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie
8. Forbes 14. Harkins 3. Murdoch 9. Quitongo
Subs used: 12. Tidser (for Murdoch, 70), 15. Tiffoney (for Forbes, 76), and 11. McHugh (for Thomson, 82).
Subs not used: 17. Russell, 21. Langan, 22. Armour, 20. Doohan (gk).
Booked: Lamie (90+4)
Dundee United (4231): Lewis; Murdoch, Durnan, Scobbie (c), Robson; Fyvie, Stanton; McMullan (Quinn, 76), Fraser (Edjenguele, 90+1), King; McDonald (N’Koyi, 90+3).
Subs not used: Allardice, Smith, Appere, Mehmet (gk).
Booked: Durnan (45+1).
Referee: Gavin Duncan
Images (main and inset): Gary Bradley
Image (inset): Gerry Lafferty