Baird (50, 72)
John Baird picked the perfect time to open his Morton account by scoring a second-half brace to clinch a 2-0 win over Brechin City at Cappielow this afternoon.
The Inverness Caledonian Thistle loanee’s deadly double saw Ton move above Dundee United into third place in the Ladbrokes Championship as well as officially consigning the visitors to the drop.
Coincidentally, Baird first worked with current manager Jim Duffy during a brief loan spell at Glebe Park, and he was selected to start against his former club by the Ton boss on Saturday in one of two team changes.
The 32-year-old striker came in for Frank Ross, with Scott Tiffoney moved out to left midfield in his place to allow Baird to partner Gary Oliver, while Gary Fraser replaced the suspended Gary Harkins.
It was Partick Thistle loan midfielder Fraser’s first start for the club, while, at the opposite end of the spectrum, goalkeeper Derek Gaston made his 200th Ton appearance.
And the double centurion couldn’t have helped but appreciate the efforts of opposite number Graeme Smith as he almost singlehandedly kept the hosts out in the first half.
With six minutes played, Smith did superbly well to turn Oliver’s crisp left-footed strike round his near post after the Ton forward had weaved his way into the box down the left.
He then denied Fraser his first Morton goal with a fantastic save three minutes later, plunging down to his right to parry the playmaker’s powerful downward header from a fantastic Michael Tidser cross.
Brechin required all three points to stave off relegation, and they were not going to go down without a fight. Had skipper Paul McLean converted a free header on 14 minutes then they might have been in with a shot.
However, the defender somehow managed to direct Jordan Sinclair’s inswinging corner wide of the target, after which Thomas O’Ware and Ricki Lamie had a heated exhange of opinions.
The visitors were enjoying a reasonable spell of pressure at this point, but there was a real lack of penetration and Liam Watt scooped a left-footed effort high over the top at the Wee Dublin End.
Ton were soon calling the shots again, though, and Fraser, who is known from his long-range shooting ability, tried his luck from 30 yards without troubling Smith in the Sinclair Street goal.
Baird forced a more taxing save from the former Motherwell and Hibs shot-stopper on 36 minutes, cracking off a snapshot from a Michael Doyle pull-back that had to be repelled with both hands.
Smith’s fifth, final, and best save of the first 45 minutes saw him drop to his right to repel Tidser’s low drive after the midfielder feigned to slip the ball out the overlapping Doyle and checked inside to pull the trigger.
Gaston had been a bystander for the most part but was called into action in the last meaningful action of the half, beating back Callum Morrison’s powerful angled drive before watching Watt lash his follow up over the top.
After seeing their efforts to break the deadlock thwarted in the first half, Baird released the pressure valve within five minutes of the restart to prevent any desperation creeping into the Sinclair Street side’s game.
Our emergency loan signings combined to put us in front, with Fraser whipping over the inswinging corner to which Baird applied the finishing touch by stooping to net his first goal for the club with a precise header.
Baird’s appetite had been whetted, but Brechin keeper Smith denied him a quick-fire brace by springing to his right to parry the striker’s firm, placed effort on 54 minutes.
Fraser was also itching to get on the scoresheet, and after an earlier sighter, he tried his luck from distance again, going closer this time with a 30-yard potshot that bounced just wide of the right post.
But it would be Baird who would scored the decisive second in the 72nd minute, clipping a deadly, angled finish past Smith and in off the left post after Tiffoney had turned and slipped a perfect pass into his path.
The matchwinner seemingly had ice in his veins as he cooly converted, and he was treated to a standing ovation when he was replaced by Bob McHugh five minutes later.
McHugh immediately thrust himself into the action, and looked to have set up a third on 83 minutes when he challenged Smith and Oliver prodded the loose ball into an empty net.
Referee Mike Roncone, however, had blown for a foul by the Ton substitute, one which saw Smith receive treatment before being replaced by Patrick O’Neil.
O’Neil had no time to acclimatise before being forced to rush off his line and block McHugh’s attempt to flick the ball past him after the striker latched onto Gaston’s punt in behind.
In the end, Baird’s brace was more than enough to earn his side all three points and avoid slipping on a potential banana skin at home to the division’s basement boys.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie 26. Iredale
12. Tidser 23. Fraser 3. Murdoch 15. Tiffoney
18. Baird 7. Oliver
Subs used: 25. Ross (for Murdoch, 73), 11. McHugh (for Baird, 77), and 16. Strapp (for Iredale, 88).
Subs not used: 17. Russell, 19. Gasparotto, 21. Langan, 20. Brennan (gk).
Booked: Murdoch (68)
Brechin City (532): G. Smith (P. O’Neil, 85); Graham, E. Smith, Crighton, McLean (c), Dyer; Tapping, Watt, Sinclair (Mackin, 69); Layne (Orsi, 79), Morrison.
Subs not used: Fusco, Dale, Lynas, Spark.
Booked: Dyer (75).
Referee: Mike Roncone
Images: David Bell