McHugh (36), Bell (37), Tidser (74 pen, 79), Armour (76)
Morton concluded Betfred Cup Group E with an emphatic win over Albion Rovers this afternoon to keep up a tradition that has seen them triumph 5-0 on successive Ladies Days at Cappielow.
Each season the club dedicates hospitality to our female fans for a fixture as they dress up in their finery to enjoy fizz and football, and the inaugural event in 2017 was marked by a five-goal victory against Edinburgh City.
And the ladies were a lucky charm again almost a year to the day as a Michael Tidser double and goals from Bob McHugh, Connor Bell – on his debut – and Ben Armour – his first for the club – saw the Ton ease to three points.
After seeing his playing pool siginificantly weakened through the week, Ton boss Ray McKinnon made five changes to the team that beat Stenhousemuir seven days earlier.
The injured trio of Charlie Telfer, Chris Millar – both listed on the bench but only in the case of a real emergency – and Lewis Strapp were replaced by Gary Oliver, new signing Bell, and Jack Iredale.
On the plus side, goalkeeper Derek Gaston was able to return for his first appearance of the campaign between the sticks, while defender Kerr Waddell answered his gaffer’s call to arms by declaring himself fit to start.
To accomodate the bodies available, in particular the weight towards attacking talent, Greenock gaffer McKinnon set his side out in a 4-2-3-1, with the four attack-minded players given free reign to interchange at will.
That fluidity left League Two Albion Rovers all at sea as Morton flooded forward in wave after wave for what seemed the full 90 minutes.
Well, 88 minutes to be exact, as it was actually the visitors who threatened first, former St Mirren midfielder Lewis McLear digging out a shot that looped up over Gaston and dropped just wide of the right post.
Ross MacLean responded with a smart shot from a short corner that took a wicked deflection off Paul McGeough and grazed the crest of the crossbar.
Where MacLean started on the left of the attacking-midfield three, Oliver operated from a starting position on the opposite side, and he went close to opening his account with two similar drives that flashed wide.
New Albion manager John Brogan has recruited a number of players from the junior ranks this summer, and goalkeeper Gareth Halford looks an astute addition, keeping Morton at bay until the 36th minute.
The former Lanark shot-stopper did well to paw a Waddell header from a Tidser outswinging corner away from the target to deny the Dundee loan defender a goal on his home debut.
On 13 minutes, he dropped to his left to scoop McHugh’s side-footed shot around the upright after MacLean had teed him up inside the box, and then produced a save for the cameras when he flipped an Iredale header over.
He must have thought his goal had finally been breached in the 21st minute when Tidser picked out Bell with a brilliant low cross perfectly angled around the retreating defence from out on the left.
The former Inverness striker took a careful first touch to take it past Halford but then seemed to get over excited at the prospect of scoring so soon into his Ton career, stumbled and somehow stabbed wide.
There was never any concern that a goal wasn’t coming, though – more a sense that the miss had simply further delayed the inevitable.
McHugh validated that suspicion by expertly hooking a first-time shot past Halford after meeting MacLean’s low cross from the right, to score his second of the season and his second in successive matches.
The dam was burst now, and there was barely time to announce the first goal before a second was scored inside 60 seconds.
McHugh assisted this time, slipping a pass into Bell’s path after a neat MacLean backheel. The striker then stroked a fantastic finish past Halford and inside the right post to quickly erase the memory of his earlier miss.
It had been 45 minutes of one-way traffic towards the Wee Dublin End goal, and the hosts surely felt they had been worth more than the two-goal advantage they had established.
Visiting boss Brogan was not satisfied by the first half and made a double change at the break, bringing on Ronan Kearney and Gary Fisher in place of John Cunningham and Mark Greene.
But it was never likely to make a significant difference such was the gulf between the teams on the day, although the hosts would not fully press home their superiority until the final quarter hour.
Tidser added the third on 74 minutes by cooly converting from the spot, sweeping into the bottom-right corner and sending Halford the wrong way, after McHugh had been poleaxed by sub Bryan Wharton at the back post.
Albion were ruthlessy punished again two minutes later when substitute Armour seized on a slip by left-back Scott Forrester, surged clear, and slipped a cute finish under Halford to score his first senior goal.
As one of the four signed players inherited by McKinnon and co, Sinclair Street stalwart Tidser has served a Betfred Cup notice that he is ready to play as important part in the season as the new recruits.
He rounded off a sponsors’ man of the match showing by pouncing on Barry Eley’s slack pass, bursting through the home defence and dancing round Halford before stroking into the empty net.
The strike was his second of the afternoon and his third of the season, and when combined with three League Cup assists, meant that he has had a hand in six of his team’s nine goals scored thus far.
For the team as a whole, it was an upbeat and assured way to end the group stages and begin the build towards Saturday’s big league opener at home to Queen of the South.
2. Tumilty 4. Kilday 5. Waddell 3. Iredale
8. McAlister 6. Tidser
7. Oliver 9. McHugh 10. MacLean
Subs used: 16. Armour (for Bell, 64), 17. Hynes (for Tumilty, 74), and 15. Langan (for MacLean, 77).
Subs not used: 12. Telfer, 14. Millar, 18. Thomson, 20. Scully (gk).
Albion Rovers (442): Halford; S. Smith (Wharton, 64), Murdoch (c), Eley, Forrester; McMahon, McGeough, McLear, Greene (Fisher, 46); Cunningham (Kearney, 46), Gracie.
Subs not used: Watters, Gallagher, McCann, C. Smith (gk).
Booked: Wharton (73).
Referee: Steven Reid
⭐️ Star Man: Michael Tidser
Image (main): David Bell
Image (inset): Gary Bradley