Paton (12), Russell (26) – Oliver (39)
Morton were eliminated from the Irn-Bru Cup tonight after suffering a first round defeat against Dumbarton at the C&G Systems Stadium.
Goals from Michael Paton and Iain Russell left a young Sinclair Street side, which included three players making their first senior starts in Kyle Thomson, Ruaridh Langan, and Ben Eardley, stunned with just 26 minutes played.
Gary Oliver threw Ton a lifeline by pulling one back before the break, but despite spending the second half on the front foot, Ray McKinnon’s men could not find the equaliser required to rescue their Challenge Cup hopes.
Ton boss McKinnon had promised opportunities for fringe players following Saturday’s 2-0 win at Alloa Athletic, and he lived up to that commitment by changing his entire team.
This meant top-team starting berths for the trio of Thomson, Langan, and Eardley, a second start for right-back Darren Hynes, as well as first appearances of the season for Robert Thomson and Scott Tiffoney.
Stevie Aitken’s Sons line-up contained four former Ton players in Grant Adam, Willie Dyer, Bobby Barr, and Russell, and Barr and Russell in particular subjected their young opponents to a torrid opening half hour.
The pair combined on nine minutes when Barr, operating on the left, drove down the flank and swung over a cross that Russell nodded harmlessly over the top after seeming surprised the delivery actually reached him.
He was far more alert three minutes later when he fizzed a firt-time shot at goal and forced restored Cappielow custodian Derek Gaston to make a brilliant block, parrying out to his left.
Unfortunately, the save landed at the feet of Greenock-born wideman Paton and he returned with interest, sending a scorching angled drive back from whence it came, across Gaston and into the opposite corner.
Russell then added a second on 26 minutes, sweeping a side-footed finish high past Gaston from an acute angle on the left after a Barr cross broke kindly for him inside the box.
The 35-year-old has been a constant thorn in his one-time employers’ side over the course of his career, and some fans might not be surprised to learn this was his 19th goal in 30 appearances against ourselves.
Gaffer McKinnon later admitted that there was a sense of rabbits caught in the headlights about his youthful team in that opening half hour.
But they got over their initial nerves and got to grips with the game, centre-half Jack Iredale attempting to take the bull by the horns by surging out of defence on trademark mazy dribbles that didn’t quite come off.
And Oliver offered something for them to grab onto when he worked a slick one-two with Connor Bell on the edge of the box, taking the cushioned return in his stride before lacing a left-footed daisycutter past Adam.
It was the 23-year-old’s first goal of the 2018/19 campaign and, coming as it did six minutes before the break, provided an important boost ahead of the second period.
The visitors would spend what felt like the entire half on the front foot, and Oliver threatened to restore parity on 58 minutes with a tremendously taken side-volley that Adam did well to clasp into his body.
American midfielder Thomson then brought out a very similar save in the former Cappielow keeper with a thumping drive from distance.
McKinnon brought on Ben Armour and Ross MacLean just before the hour mark, and the duo added a real impetus and energy to Ton’s attacking intent as they ramped it up a gear in the final 20 minutes.
Motherwell loan ace MacLean went closest to a leveller, almost finding the net on three separate occasions in the space of eight minutes.
Two of those attempts were identical free-kicks, both of which MacLean curled over the wall from a position to the left of centre 22 yards out only to see Adam spring to his right to claw away with two hands each time.
Sandwiched between those efforts was an agonising deflected cross that brushed the outside of the post after MacLean had done well to keep the ball in on the bye-line and stroked over a low cross that clipped Ross Perry.
Despite their domination and best efforts, an equaliser was not forthcoming and Morton ultimately bowed out of the revamped Challenge Cup competition.
1. Gaston (c)
36. Hynes 5. Waddell 3. Iredale 38. Eardley
17. Tiffoney 21. Langan 15. K. Thomson 18. Oliver
10. R. Thomson
Subs used: 22. Armour (for R. Thomson, 56), 19. MacLean (for Tiffoney, 59), and 32. R. Lyon (for Bell, 72)
Subs not used: 2. Kilday, 6. Telfer, 25. McKeown, 23. Scully (gk).
Booked: Langan (41), Waddell (82), Eardley (87).
Dumbarton (442): Adam; Perry, C. Barr (Loy, 46), Dowie, Dyer; Paton (Gallagher, 77), Hutton, Carswell, B. Barr; Thomson, Russell (Forbes, 71)
Subs not used: McGowan (gk).
Booked: Russell (42), Dowie (69), Thomson (73), Carswell (83).
Referee: Gavin Ross
⭐️ Star Man: Ross MacLean
Image (main): David Bell
Image (Inset): Gary Bradley