Morton moved four points clear in fourth place in the Ladbrokes Championship and stretched their unbeaten streak to six matches with a hard-earned 1-0 win against Dumbarton at the YOUR Radio Stadium.
Defender Thomas O’Ware made the difference, heading home a Michael Tidser corner with just 16 minutes remaining to find the net for the 25th time in his Cappielow career.
His landmark goal was enough to separate the sides on the night and helped Ton put some daylight between themselves and their promotion play-off rivals, as well as moving within two points of Dundee United in third.
The victory was Ton’s fifth in their last six outings, with the other outcome Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Queen of the South at Palmerston – and Jim Duffy made three changes to the team that picked up a point at Palmerston.
Ricki Lamie replaced the injured Jack Iredale – Duffy utilising the third centre-half in order to set up in a 3-4-1-2 formation – while Michael Tidser started in central midfield with Gary Harkins dropping out.
There was also a Morton debut for goalkeeper Conor Brennan due to the fact Derek Gaston had been feeling unwell, and the Northern Irishman was given a real baptism of fire by the Sons.
Buoyed from reaching the Irn-Bru Cup final at the weekend, Stevie Aitken’s side came storming out of the starting blocks and pinned their visitors back for the opening 10 minutes.
With less than 60 seconds gone, Brennan was forced to tip a swerving Dimitris Froxylias shot over the top, and he followed that fine save by plunging to his left to get two hands to Liam Burt’s stinging drive.
Cypriot Froxylias was the man who fired Dumbarton into the final with a stunning free-kick against TNS, but he was left holding his head in his hands on seven minutes.
In what was a quite incredible miss, the attacking midfielder somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar from two yards after getting on the end of Andy Stirling’s low cross from the right.
Morton could consider themselves extremely fortunate not to be trailing by at least two goals, but they weathered the storm and steadied the ship.
Tidser began to put his foot on the ball and dictate the tempo by around the 20th minute as the Greenock men gradually asserted themselves and grew into the game.
They first threatened Scott Gallacher’s goal on 18 minutes, Bob McHugh snapping onto a Gary Oliver pass and flashing a crisp, left-footed shot narrowly wide of the right post, a nick off a defender deflecting the ball wide.
Dumbarton were next to threaten, though, and Froxylias, undeterred despite his earlier sitter, met a headed clearance with a searing left-foot volley that flashed just wide of the upright with Brennan rooted to the spot.
Sons goalkeeper Gallacher made his first save of the match, albeit a routine stop, shortly afterwards, dropping to smother Oliver’s hooked shot after Tidser had found him with reverse free-kick down the outside of the wall.
Highly-rated Rangers attacking midfielder Burt was making his first league start for Aitken’s side, and he is a player who has starred at Cappielow in the past.
The 19-year-old scored for the Scotland Under-17s in a win over Iceland in Greenock and came within a whisker of netting last night, working a shot 20 yards out and cutting a low drive back across his body and just wide.
Ton’s own loan star, Aberdeen’s Frank Ross, was involved in fashioning the next opportunity of the game, one that was almost as glaring as Froxlias’s earlier miss.
Ross, operating in the hole behind the frontmen, slipped a pass out to Andy Murdoch overlapping on the left. The midfielder instantly fired a precise a low cross to the far post to find McHugh arriving right on cue.
Despite being so deadly that he has been christened ‘Finish, Bob’ by team-mates, Ton’s top scorer somehow managed to side-foot over the top.
Although the ball was fizzed in and he attempted to convert from a tight angle, eight-goal McHugh will still feel he should have left the net bulging. As it was, the game remained goalless at the break.
Duffy has had no luck with injuries of late, and he was dealt another blow when Gasparotto was forced off injured five minutes into the second half after taking a bang to the ribs.
The Cappielow gaffer elected to send on Harkins in his stead and move to a 4-4-2 formation, facilitated by Mark Russell and Michael Doyle reverting to full-back roles, Tidser moving to the right, and Ross to the left.
From his position on the flank, Tidser carved out the next goal-scoring opportunity, one that eerily echoed earlier misses by Froxylias and McHugh.
Twisting and turning to manufacture space to bend a low cross round the corner into the box with his right foot, the playmaker picked out Oliver arriving at the back post, but he somehow stabbed over from close-range.
Tidser then provided the ammunition when the Ton finally made the breakthrough on 74 minutes, delivering an inswinging corner – after Russell had seen a shot pawed wide by Gallacher – to the front post.
Aerial assassin O’Ware attacked the set-piece and powered a downwards header inside the right post before skidding on his knees in front of the travelling support as scenes of unbridled job unfolded in the away end.
The way the game had unfolded until then suggested that one goal would decide the contest, and so it proved as the defender’s quarter-century strike saw Ton emerge triumphant at the end of a gruelling 90 minutes.
19. Gasparotto 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie
6. Doyle 3. Murdoch 12. Tidser 17. Russell
11. McHugh 7. Oliver
Subs used: 14. Harkins (for Gasparotto, 53), and 15. Tiffoney (for McHugh, 66)
Subs not used: 16. Strapp, 21. Langan, 36. Hynes, 1. Gaston (gk).
Booked: Gasparotto (39)
Dumbarton (4231): Gallacher; Smith, Wilson, Dowie, Dick; Carswell, Hutton; Stirling, Froxylias (Handling, 62), Burt (Russell, 67); Stewart (Nisbet, 57)
Subs not used: Wilson, Gallagher, Hill, Ewings (gk).
Booked: Wilson (28).
Referee: Don Robertson
Images: Gary Bradley