Purdue (65 pen)
Morton Under-20s were tonight crowned 2017/18 Development League West champions after beating Ayr United 1-0 in a high-pressure title decider at Cappielow.
The race for top spot was blown wide open after erstwhile league leaders Stranraer were docked three points at an SPFL disciplinary hearing for fielding an ineligible player.
It meant a win for either the Ton or Honest Men would see them lift the title while a draw would see Airdrieonians cling on to their place at the top of the pile.
But the combination of a huge team effort, a Jack Purdue penalty, and Daniel Farrell’s inspired showing between the sticks saw Derek Anderson’s side clinch the championship after a stunning second half to the season.
Victories over Airdrie last Friday and Albion Rovers on Monday saw the Greenock men record their seventh and eighth wins in their last 10 matches and requiring just one more to achieve a goal that long seemed out of reach.
Interim boss Anderson stuck with the same starting XI that annihilated Albion Rovers 6-1 at Cappielow at the beginning of the week, but Ayr were always going to be a tougher nut to crack.
The Ton were clearly up for the challenge, however, and Shaun Rodgers saw a shot brush the sidenetting with less than 20 seconds played following great work from Ben Armour.
It was a frantic opening period, and shot-stopper Farrell did well scramble back towards his line and flip the ball over the bar after Gavin Watt saw a sliding clearance ricochet off Jamie Martin and loop towards the target.
He produced another superb save in the fourth minute, plunging down to his left to get a strong wrist to James Hilton’s curled effort.
Ayr custodian Ellis Hare-Reid was also forced to earn his keep in this period and left the healthy home support disappointed when he clutched Armour’s glancing header from a Reece Lyon cross.
After an incredibly open first 10 minutes, the game settled down. The weather did not. In fact, the heavens suddenly opened to dump a deluge on top of the players.
It made for testing conditions for both teams, but the hosts adapted well and Alexander Easdale went close to opening the scoring on 24 minutes with a left-footed snapshot from a Rodgers cross.
And the pair will still be wondering how the ball stayed out of the net when they were both presented with opportunities right on the cusp of half-time.
The ball originally dropped to Rodgers at the far post. Taking the shot on the volley, he showed tremendous technique and was unlucky to see his effort crack the inside of the right post.
It rebounded out into the path of Easdale, but the former Aberdeen youth couldn’t quite readjust his body shape in time and hooked over.
The second half belonged to Ayr, but their dominance was punctuated, vitally as it turned out, by a Ton attack in which Armour was scythed down as he burst past a defender.
Referee Chris Gentles initially awarded a free-kick but appeared to be advised it was inside the box by his Cowshed-side assistant and changed his decision, pointing to the spot.
Attacking midfielder Purdue took responsibility for what was a pressure penalty, stepped up from 12 yards and tucked a precise finish inside the left post, sending goalkeeper Hare-Reid the wrong way.
Ayr responded by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Ton – even if they had, you could only imagine an unyielding Farrell would have prevented it from crossing his goal-line too.
The 18-year-old almost single-handedly kept his side in the game in the closing stages, producing a hat-trick of sensational stops to deny Chris Campbell, James Hilton, and Luke McCowan.
His 87th-minute save to thwart Greenock-born McCowan was jaw-dropping, Farrell propelling himself low to his left to push a stinging drive – one that looked in the moment it left the midfielder’s boot – around the right post.
After three nervy minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew to jubilant scenes of celebration across the main stand and on the pitch.
Skipper Ruaridh Langan, who along with Darren Hynes were part of the Ton team that won the same competition in 2015/16, lifted the trophy to bring a remarkable development league campaign to a euphoric end.
2. Hynes 4. Watt 5. Eardley
7. Brophy 6. Langan (c) 8. R. Lyon 11. Rodgers
10. Easdale 9. Armour
Subs used: 14. J. Lyon (for R. Lyon, 88), and 12. Ben Docherty (for Rodgers, 90+1).
Subs not used: 15. Trialist, 17. A. Duffy, 18. McGrattan, 19. Campbell, 20. Coyle (gk).
Booked: Langan (39), Hynes (76), Eardley (90+2).
Referee: Chris Gentles
Images: Gary Bradley