Ray McKinnon’s reign as Morton manager began with a goalless draw against Forfar Athletic in a pre-season friendly at a sun-bathed Station Park this afternoon.
In what was the first open-door fixture of the new Ton boss’s tenure, the Greenock men and a League One Loons side including ex-Cappielow players John Baird and Gary Fraser could not be separated.
The 90 minutes, though, will prove vital to McKinnon’s preparation as he gives players game time and moulds his new-look group into cohesive unit ahead of next Saturday’s Betfred Cup Group E opener against Ayr.
For his first official game in charge, the Cappielow gaffer set his team out in a 4-3-3 formation with returning midfielder Jim McAlister wearing the captain’s armband.
As well as McAlister, there was a second debut for Chris Millar, while Ryan Scully, Gregor Buchanan, Charlie Telfer, and Ross MacLean made their first starts for the club.
Although the Greenock men would enjoy the lion’s share of possession for the majority of the first half, particularly up to the midpoint water break, the hosts went closest to breaking the deadlock.
On 13 minutes, Dale Hilson was denied by the assistant’s flag due to the fact that before he lobbed a clever finish over Scully and into the net, he had started his chase after a long ball from an offside position.
McAlister was then required to race back towards his own goal and hook Baird’s pull-back to safety, just off the toes of Jamie Bain as he arrived inside the visitors’ box.
It was no surprise to see Fraser follow close friend Baird to Station Park this summer, and he was first to test Scully, finding the target with a powerful free-kick from 25 yards that the keeper smothered low to his right.
The Sinclair Street side began to add progression to their possession, and only a last-gasp flick from a home defender prevented Buchanan from getting on the end of Telfer’s inswinging corner.
Motherwell loan winger MacLean was proving a menace down the right flank with his direct style, both with and without the ball.
In the 41st minute, he darted in behind onto a dinked Lee Kilday pass down the inside-right channel and flashed a low cross into the six-yard box. Unfortunately there were no takers on this occasion.
Back at the other end, Baird flicked out a leg to beat Scully to Bain’s near-post cross and watched in agony as the ball looped over the Ton keeper and dropped on the roof of the net.
A recount of the goalmouth action, however, does not tell the full story of 45 minutes in which an organised Forfar were held in their own half by a Ton team that enjoyed control of the football and probed for openings.
Gaffer McKinnon sent out the same team for the second half and headed for the away dugout, where he was serenaded by small band of travelling supporters.
The group gathered on the terracing in front of the main stand broke into a chrous of ‘Ray, Ray, Super Ray, Super Ray McKinnon’ in a modified verion of a chant that once celebrated Rowan ‘Super Ro’ Alexander.
There was a change in mood in the 57th minute, though, when midfielder Charlie Telfer was left limping heavily after going over his right ankle while chopping inside a defender out on the right flank.
The summer signing was forced off as part of a treble substitution that saw the introduction of Michael Tidser alongside trialists Kyle Thomson and Dean Hawkshaw.
It was a second half devoid of notable incident until the 84th minute, when the visitors enjoyed their second linesman-aided escape of the day.
Under pressure and facing his own goal, Jack Iredale, who had started the match at centre-half and finished at left-back, attempted to hook a floated cross from the left clear to safety.
Bain had arrived on his blindside, though, and the ball cannoned off the Forfar No.11 and flashed past Scully straight into the net.
But the muted home celebrations were cut short when it became apparent the standside assistant has his flag raised for offside, disallowing the goal.
Defender Gregor Buchanan had impressed over the piece, and the former St Mirren and Livingston defender was involved in two key moments at either end in the closing stages.
On 85 minutes, the 6ft 3in centre-half bustled into the box and came within an inch of connecting with Tidser’s inswinging free-kick from out on the right, the ball brushing the top of his hair as he stretched to reach it.
Although he is bound to add a threat in the opposition box, it’s at the other end Buchanan will truly earn his corn and where he impressed over the course of the 90 minutes in Angus.
His assuredness was best demonstrated in the 87th minute when he calmly allowed a cross from the left to run across his body before stooping to flick on with his forehead despite facing his own goal just six yards out
A shutout secured as this valuable workout ended in stalemate, the Ton now play one last closed-doors game against Queen’s Park before the return to competitive action next weekend.
2. Kilday 4. Buchanan 5. Iredale 3. Strapp
8. McAlister (c) 7. Millar 6. Telfer
11. MacLean 9. McHugh 10. Oliver
Subs used: 12. Tidser (for Telfer, 59), 18. Trialist [Kyle Thomson] (for Millar, 59), 19. Trialist [Dean Hawkshaw] (for McHugh, 59), 15. Langan (for Strapp, 65).
Subs not used: Waddell, Armour, Farrell (GK).
Forfar Athletic (442): McCallum; Meechan, Travis, Munro (Easton, 46), Whyte; MacKintosh (Trialist, 46), Reilly (Malone, 66), Fraser (Allan, 86), Bain; Hilson, Baird (Starkey, 75).
Subs not used: Clark, Muir (GK).
Referee: Scott Lambie
⭐️ Star Man: Gregor Buchanan
Images: Gary Bradley