Morton maintained the promotion play-off status quo by claiming a hard-earned and potentially important point away at Dunfermline Athletic this afternoon.
The sides sat fourth and fifth in the Ladbrokes Championship table fought out a goalless draw over 90 gruelling minutes at an arctic East End Park.
It was a gutsy display from Jim Duffy’s men as they defended stoically as well as surviving a couple of second-half scares, in which the Pars hit the woodwork, to take a share of the spoils.
The stalemate combined with results elsewhere – Livingston, Dundee United, and Queen of the South also failed to win – meant that Ton preserved their four-point lead over the Pars without losing ground on the teams above.
To put the relative positivity of the outcome in perspective, this was the Cappielow club’s seventh away game in their last eight fixtures in all competitions, as well as their third away game in the space of seven days.
They had drawn at Livingson in midweek, quite literally coming within a second or two of a tremendous three points, and gaffer Duffy made just one change to the team that was held to a tie at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
The switch was an obvious one, with Michael Doyle returning to the starting line-up after serving a one-match suspension and replaced Mark Russell, who filled in at right-back against Livi.
In a false advert for the 90 minutes ahead, Derek Gaston had to look smart and drop to his left to parry Nicky Clark’s placed shot from the edge of the box within 30 seconds of kick-off.
Goalmouth incidents were few and far between in the first half, with Frank Ross and Gary Oliver going closest for the Ton, just failing to hit the target on either side of Lee Robinson’s goal with searing strikes.
The Pars’ best effort belonged to ex-Ton loanee Declan McManus, who caused Thomas O’Ware to take a booking for the team early on, his crack at goal from the left of the box rippling the side-netting.
And so it was an even-steven stalemate at the break, with neither goalkeeper really stretched on a truly bone-chilling afternoon in the Kingdom of Fife.
Again, Allan Johnston’s side made a sprightly start, and McManus tried to catch out former team-mate Gaston by giving him the eyes and attempting to whip the ball inside the keeper’s near post.
The 23-year-old was unsuccessful, though, failing to hit the target before subsequently holding up his hands in apology to his current colleagues.
Sunderland loan star Tom Beadling scored against Morton at Cappielow last month, and Kallum Higginbotham presented him with a reasonable opportunity to repeat the feat on 65 minutes.
The dynamic wideman stood up an inviting cross from the right of the box and Beadling attacked the ball with gusto, generating plenty of power but not enough accuracy, clearing the crossbar with his header.
Pars skipper Callum Morris did test Gaston two minutes later. Finding himself in an advanced area after a corner, he sliced through a cross, forcing the custodian to look alert and grasp at his left post.
Higginbotham proferred the most thorough examination of the keeper’s proficiency with a fierce 22-yard volley that Gaston shot out an arm to his left to parry before pouncing on McManus’s miscued follow up.
Morton had posed little threat to Robinson’s goal, and gaffer Duffy made a change to address this by replacing Ross with Gary Fraser and deploying him off Oliver while Scott Tiffoney moved out to the left flank.
The pattern of play went uninterrupted, however. The second half certainly belonged to the hosts, and they came within the width of the woodwork of breaking the deadlock twice in the final quarter hour.
On 75 minutes, Higginbotham put Beadling in on goal with a stabbed pass with the outside of his right boot, and the midfielder hooked the ball on the bounce, crashing an angled shot against the bar from close-range.
Then, seven minutes later, substitute Daniel Armstrong rattled the upright with a ferocious left-footed shot that gave Gaston no chance.
He should really have scored, though, and Ton lived to fight another day as they survived those close shaves to secure a gutsy draw on enemy territory, leaving things ‘as you were’ in the race for the play-offs.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie 26. Iredale
12. Tidser 3. Murdoch 14. Harkins 25. Ross
15. Tiffoney 7. Oliver
Subs used: 23. Fraser (for Ross, 74).
Subs not used: 11. McHugh, 16. Strapp, 17. Russell, 18. Baird, 19. Gasparotto, 20. Brennan (gk).
Booked: O’Ware (11).
Dunfermline (442): Robinson; Williamson, Morris (c), Ashcroft, Martin; Higginbotham, Craigen (Aird, 76), Beadling, Vincent; McManus, Clark (Armstrong, 76).
Subs not used: M’voto, Wedderburn, Talbot, Shiels, Gill (gk).
Referee: Andrew Dallas
Images: David Bell