McLennan (7) – McHugh (12)
Morton were held to a frustrating away draw by Ladbrokes Championship basement boys Brechin City on a freezing cold afternoon in Angus today.
The Glebe Park outfit opened the scoring through Connor McLennan after just seven minutes, but striker Bob McHugh hit back five minutes later to restore parity.
Despite flooding forward in wave after wave of attack in as one-sided a second half as you are likely to see, Ton could not find that quality final ball or finish required to net a winner and claim all three points.
The outcome meant the Sinclair Street side had recorded back-to-back 1-1 draws with the league leaders and bottom club in the space of four days, summing up the fine margins in the second tier.
As the Cappielow gaffer has outlined in many interviews over the years, he selects his team based on the opposition and conditions on the day, irrespective of what has gone before.
On that basis, he made three changes to the starting line-up that picked up a point against the Saints and switched up his formation.
McHugh, Scott Tiffoney, and Luca Gasparotto came in for Gary Oliver, Robert Thomson, who missed out entirely with a groin injury, and Michael Tidser.
In terms of the system, Ton boss Duffy set his side out in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Gasparotto, Thomas O’Ware, and Ricki Lamie across the back and Tiffoney operating in a free role behind the front two.
Sub Oliver had outlined the need to score early to prevent a defensive-minded Brechin side desperately searching for their first league win of the season from stubbornly sitting back in a club media match preview.
Although there was an early goal, it wasn’t part of the script he had envisioned, as Aberdeen loanee Connor McLennan stunned the Ton with a seventh-minute strike.
Making his first start since mid-August, ex-Ton striker Andy Jackson drove into the box down the left and picked out McLennan with a precise pull-back. He took a touch and stroked a cool finish into the bottom-right corner.
But before Darren Dods’ side could really take stock of the situation, their opponents drew level within five minutes of falling behind.
Gary Harkins flighted over an outswinging corner that pinballed around the box before O’Ware forced the ball into space with a firm challenge and McHugh pounced to thrash high into the net from close range.
It was the sort of predatory conversion that, as Michael Doyle revealed in a recent interview with media officer Jonathan Mitchell, has earned him the nickname ‘Finish, Bob’ as it’s repeated so often in training.
The goal was the former Falkirk forward’s seventh of the season, and took him clear of Thomson and Harkins – both of whom have six – at the top of the club’s scoring charts.
Only a magnificent Derek Gaston reaction save prevented Brechin from retaking the lead just a minute later, the Ton keeper parrying a Jackson header before Mark Russell completed the job by hacking clear off the line.
Ton offered an instant response, and teenager Tiffoney came within a fraction of firing his side in front less than sixty seconds after that, his precise low finish from the edge of the box running narrowly wide of the upright.
The hosts were then forced into a defensive change, albeit one that had minimum impact due to the fact they were able to bring on experienced ex-Morton left-back Willie Dyer in place of the injured Euan Spark.
Centre-half Paul McLean did enjoy a stroke of luck just after the half hour, though, when he smashed a clearance against Tiffoney’s shins and looked on in horror as the ball span across the face of goal and wide of the left post.
Then, in what could be considered the clutch moment of the 90 minutes, goalkeeper Graeme Smith made a sublime reaction save to keep out former Motherwell team-mate McHugh.
Jai Quitongo surged clear down the right and found McHugh with a pull-back that the striker met with a crisp snapshot that Smith somehow managed to touch wide of the left post.
Not only was the fact the ball somehow didn’t nestle in the net a real blow, the disappointment was magnified by the fact Scotland Under-21 cap Quitongo jarred his knee in the process of delivering the low cross.
He immediately signalled to the bench that his afternoon was over, and Oliver, who had enjoyed an impressive outing against St Mirren, was sent on in his stead with seven minutes of the half remaining.
McHugh was presented with one final opportunity to give his side the lead before the break when Doyle’s long throw into the box was flicked on and he attempted to hook the ball inside the post with a cute side-foot shot.
The ball finished just wide of the upright, however, with the Ton No.11 insistent it was a deflection that took the ball wide, but his claims fell on deaf ears as referee John McKendrick pointed for a goal-kick.
Duffy made a slight tweak to his system at the interval, shifting Tiffoney out to the left flank from a central starting position and looking for him to combine with Russell to carve Brechin open down that side.
This was something they did time and again over the course of the upcoming 45 minutes as the visitors beiseged the home goal in what BBC correspondent Jim Spence compared to the Alamo.
— Jim Spence (@JimSpenceSport) January 6, 2018
Two minutes after the restart, Tiffoney dropped a dangerous cross in at the far post. Gasparotto, fresh off penning a permanent deal, arrived right on cue but sent a downwards header wide of the left post.
McHugh went closer still on 55 minutes, shaving the outside of the left post by cutting a shot back across his body after Andy Murdoch and Oliver combined to tee him up with a slick exchange on the periphery of the box.
Midfielder Murdoch popped up late on to snatch all three points on Morton’s last visit to the hedge, but he couldn’t repeat those heroics, slicing two volleys wide from promising positions in the final 25 minutes.
And when Ton eventually found a way past shot-stopper Smith, skipper McLean popped up on the line to clear Oliver’s tidy lob over the advancing goalkeeper.
With Brechin camping ever deeper, Ton bodies piled forward with ever greater frequency; O’Ware found himself so far advanced on 76 minutes that he delivered a cross from high on the right that Oliver glanced wide.
On the opposite side, Tiffoney had the beating of Aron Lynas all day long and left the right-back on his rear end with a drop of the shoulder five minutes from time.
His delivery was found wanting, though, and Smith caught at the near post after the wingman fizzed his cross too close to the goal.
The final chance of a frantic second period fell to the 19-year-old, but it just wouldn’t go in for the Ton and Smith managed to repel the low drive with an instinctive flick of his right foot.
In the end, the Cappielow club were forced to accept that it just wasn’t their day, and they joined Livingston, Dundee United, and Falkirk in the list of clubs to have left Brechin with a point this season.
19. Gasparotto 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie
6. Doyle 3. Murdoch 14. Harkins 17. Russell
9. Quitongo 11. McHugh
Subs used: 7. Oliver (for Quitongo, 38), 12. Tidser (for Harkins, 68), and 22. Armour (for Gasparotto, 77).
Subs not used: 16. Strapp, 21. Langan, 26. Iredale, 27. Farrell (gk).
Brechin City (4141): Smith; Lynas, Crighton, McLean, Spark (Dyer, 23); Dale; McLennan, Tapping, Sinclair (Watt, 75), Graham; Jackson (Layne, 80).
Subs not used: Fusco, Orsi, Smith, O’Neill (gk).
Referee: John McKendrick
Image (main): David Bell
Image (Inset): Gary Bradley