Dembele (62, 70 pen), Edouard (90)
Morton exited the William Hill Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage this afternoon after losing 3-0 away at Scottish Premiership champions Celtic.
Jim Duffy’s side put up a spirited effort on a bitterly cold day in Glasgow, going in at the break goalless after giving the Parkhead outfit a scare or two in the first 15 minutes.
But their hopes of springing a shock were dashed in the final half hour, with striker Moussa Dembele bagging a brace and substitute Odsonne Edouard completing the scoring in the last minute.
The final scoreline was a little harsh on the Sinclair Street side, though, and there was a sense of injustice at the penalty award for the killer second, as Michael Doyle’s challenge on Dembele clearly occurred outside the box.
However, elements of the performance, the first 45 minutes in particular, were certainly positive and something the players can draw upon as they turn their attentions back to the league.
The opening quarter of an hour in particular was a real cause for optimism as the Sinclair Street side, set out in a bold 4-4-2 formation by gaffer Duffy, took the game to the hosts.
Gary Harkins has played on this stage several times over the course of his career, and he carried himself with a swagger that radiated the belief he belongs on a pitch alongside the likes of Scott Brown and Kieran Tierney.
The 33-year-old was playing delicate passes round the corner of international opponents with the outside of his boot as well as bossing things physically, with a number of steely challenges.
One firm standing tackle saw him lead a counter-attack that ended with Gary Oliver tripped by Brown. Harkins took the free-kick and bent an effort around the wall and just wide of the right post from 25 yards.
Frenchman Dembele would prove Celtic’s primary goal threat, and he first threatened on 16 minutes with a powerful header from a James Forrest cross that Thomas O’Ware did superbly well to get back and nod over.
Brendan Rodgers’ side continued to look menacing aerially, with 6ft 5in defender Kristoffer Ajer attacking Tierney’s inswinging corner at the near post and bulleting the ball wide on 23 minutes.
Ton registered their first shot on target on 32 minutes, Harkins bursting out of midfield to seize control of a second ball before cutting through a half-volley that was central enough for Dorus De Vries to stoop to claim.
It was around this juncture that the match settled into a pattern of Celtic controlling possession while a disciplined Morton worked hard to maintain their shape behind the ball and cede not an inch of space.
This restricted the top-flight league leaders’ route to goal and, as a consquence, their ability to create meaningful opportunities. Again, it would require a set-play for them to cause panic in the away rearguard.
Highly-rated left-back Tierney – a player whose progress has been exponential since he was tied in knots by Bobby Barr in kitman Andy Bryan’s testimonial in 2015 – whipped over another inswinging flag-kick.
Where Ajer assaulted the near post earlier, Jozo Simunovic did so on this occasion, leaving many of the 16,000 or so home fans believing the deadline had been broken with a header that flashed just past the right post.
It took until the 39th minute for the Scottish champions to test Gaston in the Ton goal, and, like the proverbial London buses, two attempts that required his attention came along in quick succession.
Elusive Australia international Tom Rogic had been contained until unleashing a 15-yard strike that forced Gaston to push off to his left to get his hand to the ball and flip it around the upright.
Two minutes later, the Ton custodian again thwarted the Antipodean attacking midfielder by deflecting his hooked volley from a deep Tierney cross into the side-netting.
A very encouraging first half in which the Ton started brightly ended goalless, and such was the effectiveness of the Greenock men’s gameplan that Rodgers made a change at the break.
The Northern Irishman withdrew winger Scott Sinclair and replaced him with another out-and-out striker in the shape of Paris Saint-Germain loanee Edouard, and it was this tweak that would change the game.
Edouard’s impact was immediate, albeit he should have scored rather than scuff at Gaston when the ball broke kindly for him 10 yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Yet, tartan-clad Ton almost defied the odds and scored against the run of play when Andy Murdoch took a touch, let the ball drop and unleashed a dipping volley that flashed a whisker wide of De Vries’s right post.
It was perhaps the jolt that really spurred Celtic into action, and they eventually edged in front in the 62nd minute through hitman Dembele.
Rogic worked space out on the right and stood up a cross for the France Under-21 cap to crane his neck back and power a towering header into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
They added an extremely controversial second eight minutes later to effectively kill off the tie as a contest when referee John Beaton incorrectly awarded a penalty.
The whistler adjudged Doyle to have tripped Dembele inside the box; however, replays and still images have confirmed original suspicions that the foul occurred at least a foot outside the box.
Doyle’s impassioned pleas fell on deaf ears while Dembele picked himself up to take the spot-kick, and although Gaston guessed correctly, the strike was emphatic and slammed into the net above the goalie at the top left.
That 2-0 scoreline would have perhaps been a fair reflection of the afternoon if you take aside the injustice of the penalty call, but a little salt was rubbed into the visitors’ wounds when Celtic added a third in the final minute.
Forrest tucked a low cross into the Ton box from the right which Edouard did well to control and deceive O’Ware before rifling high into the net with the aid of a deflection off Doyle.
In spite of the final scoreline, a spirited performance saw the Ton give the hosts a real game, particularly in a goalless first half, and should now give them further fuel for the fire that is their bid to make the play-offs.
The 1,406 away fans must also receive a tremendous amount of credit for the effort they made to get to Glasgow from a snowbound Inverclyde in such numbers and the incredible backing they gave the team.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie 17. Russell
12. Tidser 3. Murdoch 14. Harkins 25. Ross
15. Tiffoney 7. Oliver
Subs used: 11. McHugh (for Tidser, 78), and 26. Iredale (for Ross, 87).
Subs not used: 16. Strapp, 21. Langan, 28. Purdue, 20. Brennan (gk).
Booked: Oliver (58), O’Ware (72), Ross (82).
Celtic (4231): De Vries; Ajer, Simunovic, Compper (McGregor, 83), Tierney; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest, Rogic (Musonda, 68), Sinclair (Edouard, 46); Dembele.
Subs not used: Roberts, Lustig, Kouassi, Bain (gk).
Referee: John Beaton
Attendance: 18,255 (1,406 away fans)
Image (main): Ross Cameron
Image (Inset): Gary Bradley