MacLean (33), McHugh (41)
Ray McKinnon secured his first win as Morton manager in his maiden match in charge at Cappielow after his side triumphed 2-0 against Stenhousemuir in the Betfred Cup this afternoon.
First-half goals from Ross MacLean and Bob McHugh were enough to claim a deserved victory and get Ton’s first points on the board in Group E on a day that began with an emotional round of applause for Douglas Rae OBE.
After assessing a 3-5-2 formation at Ayr United and piloting a 4-2-3-1 against Partick Thistle, McKinnon returned to the 4-3-3 that he first used in the pre-season friendly versus Forfar Athletic.
The Ton boss had enjoyed success with the system at the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill on Tuesday in the respect that it saw his side control an extremely one-sided second half.
He made just one personnel change to the side that faced the Jags, replacing Jack Iredale with Lewis Strapp at left-back while restoring Michael Tidser to midfield.
An intrigued Cappielow crowd were getting their first glimpse at their new-look squad on home turf, and they couldn’t have failed to have been impressed as the players picked up where they left off in Glasgow.
On 12 minutes, MacLean reversed a pass into the path of the overlapping Strapp. Collecting the ball close to the bye-line he tried to catch out Graeme Smith from a tight angle but thrashed his shot into the outside netting.
A decade had passed since Chris Millar last strutted his stuff on the hallowed turf, but the 35-year-old midfield pivot pulled the strings as though he had never been away.
He also showed he can still make a difference in the final third when on 23 minutes he clipped a measured pass over the top at the end of an aesthetically pleasing move built up from the back to the front and left to right.
MacLean had given the veteran an option by darting across the defensive line and latched onto the ball as it dropped but swiped at his volley, leaving Smith with a simple catch.
The Motherwell loanee was causing the visitors constant consternation, appearing in dangerous areas and firing over a few crosses, albeit without quite producing the necessary quality with his delivery.
Manager McKinnon had an encouraging word in his ear asking him to pick out a man next time – but it would turn out that MacLean would be the player applying the finishing touch rather than assisting the opening goal.
On 33 minutes, Jim McAlister, making his 275th Ton appearance, knocked down to Tidser who took an excellent touch to cushion with his back to goal before sharply hooking on around the corner.
Although the pass was played blind, the playmaker knew exactly what he was doing and MacLean raced clear before he calmly rounded Smith at his right and slotted into an empty net to open his Ton account.
Tidser also engineered his side’s second goal, scored eight minutes later, although not in quite as deliberate a fashion as his earlier contribution.
Picking up possession on the right of the box, he attempted to curl a shot inside the left post, but before it could reach the target, McHugh popped up to stick his head on the ball and redirect it into the centre of the goal.
The assist was Tidser’s third in three matches and also meant he has been involved in all four Morton goals so far this season, having scored with a free-kick at Ayr as well as providing the pass for Reghan Tumilty at Partick.
In terms of numbers, it was also a significant afternoon for Lee Kilday. The long-serving defender was not only making his 120th appearance for the club but also his first senior appearance at Cappielow in 15 months.
How he did not mark the afternoon with a goal remains a mystery, as he not only struck the woodwork but also saw a header cross the line only to go unawarded by the officials.
It was in the 45th minute that Telfer whipped in a free-kick from wide on the left that caused Smith all sorts of worries as it dropped in the six-yard box.
The Stenny goalkeeper reacted by pushing the ball against Kilday and watched in relief – the latter in disbelief – as the ball span up and clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Then, 11 minutes after the restart, the same two players combined for a second time, concluding with Kilday seeing a bulleted downwards header scrambled off the line and cleared.
Or so it seemed. Photographic evidence provided by club snapper Gary Bradley later showed that the whole ball had clearly crossed the line and that Kilday’s name should have made the scoresheet.
At the other end, shot-stopper Ryan Scully enjoyed as straightforward a home debut as he could have hoped for, with two off-target efforts from substitute Alan Cook the closest Stenny came to breaching his goal.
Morton continued to monopolise possession, keeping the ball on the carpet as they prompted and probed and looked for chinks in the League One outfit’s armour.
A period of three games in seven days looked to have exacted a toll as the intensity dropped towards the end, but three points were already in the bag long before then as McKinnon delivered a win on his home bow.
2. Tumilty 5. Kilday 4. Buchanan 3. Strapp
8. McAlister 7. Millar 10. Tidser
6. Telfer 9. McHugh 11. MacLean
Subs used: 12. Oliver (for Millar, 52), 14. Iredale (for Kilday, 77), and 16. Armour (for MacLean, 78).
Subs not used: 15. Langan, 17. Hynes, 18. Purdue, 20. Gaston (gk).
Stenhousemuir (4231): Smith; Reid, Neill, Tena, Donaldson; Gibbons (Cook, 46), Halleran; Duthie (McMenamin, 63), Ross (Johnson, 74), Dickson; McGuigan
Subs not used: Ferry, Sinclair, McMinn (gk).
Booked: Tena (33), Duthie (40).
Referee: Colin Steven
⭐️ Star Man: Michael Tidser
Image (main): Ross Cameron
Image (inset): Gary Bradley