McShane (67 pen), Reilly (72) – Murdoch (68), Harkins (79 pen)
Morton fought back from behind twice to claim a 2-2 draw and end league leaders St Mirren’s 100 per cent home record in today’s Renfrewshire derby at the Paisley 2021 Stadium.
After a relatively uneventful first half, the game exploded into life after the break with four goals scored in the space 12 pulsating minutes.
Ian McShane opened the scoring with a penalty in the 67th minute – to which Andy Murdoch responded with a screamer of a strike to draw his side level within 60 seconds.
Gavin Reilly fired the hosts back in front and brought Ton down to earth, but former Saint Gary Harkins sparked wild scenes of celebration in the away end again when he converted a cool spot-kick to take a point.
The draw stretched the Sinclair Street side’s unbeaten run to three matches, following a 1-0 win at Brechin City and the 1-1 home draw with Dumbarton.
Jim Duffy made two changes to the XI that shared the spoils with the Sons, recalling Ross Forbes and handing Scott Tiffoney his first start of the season, with Robert Thomson and Bob McHugh making way.
The changes saw Jai Quitongo moved back through the middle after featuring on the right flank seven days earlier, and he was the first player to threaten for either team.
With three minutes on the clock, the frontman surged clear down the inside-left channel but couldn’t quite get the ball under control at the clutch moment and Craig Samson managed to scramble behind.
Ricki Lamie scored in the corresponding fixture on Hogmanay last year, and he went close to adding to his derby tally with a downwards header from a Forbes corner that bounced narrowly wide.
From there, Jack Ross’s team largely took charge, with Greenock-born winger Lewis Morgan – a First Touch Football Coaching graduate – the most likely.
Between nine and 16 minutes, the Scotland Under-21 cap had three attempts at goal, dragging one effort wide of the left post and forcing Derek Gaston into a straightforward catch with another.
Morgan’s third attempt was his best, though, and caused Gaston to arch back and acrobatically claw the swerving shot over the bar.
The visitors were defending doggedly and sticking to their task admirably, albeit without threatening much at the opposite end until the closing stages of the half.
In a portent of what would occur after the break, midfielder Murdoch snapped onto a second ball and unleashed a powerful drive that required Saints shot-stopper Samson to beat away to his left.
By derby standards the first 45 minutes had failed to catch fire. The second half, however, did not disappoint as the game erupted.
Cappielow custodian Gaston preserved parity three minutes after the restart with a fine reaction save, throwing up an arm to brush Morgan’s close-range, rising drive beyond the crossbar.
Morton No.9 Quitongo had terrorised the Saints at Cappielow back in August, but he wasn’t getting any joy against the Paisley outfit this time around and Duffy elected to replace him with McHugh on 55 minutes.
And he quickly made his presence felt, fastening onto a smart Tiffoney flick and firing a shot into the side-netting, one that might have found the target had he not been off target when pulling the trigger.
But the blue touch paper was really lit on 65 minutes when referee Steven McLean awarded St Mirren a penalty for a Michael Doyle pull on Morgan that appeared to occur outside the box.
The Ton right-back, who fatefully slipped before grabbing his opponent, was booked and midfielder McShane tucked the ball into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards, sending Gaston the wrong way.
The lead lasted less than 60 seconds. Murdoch again reacted quickest to a second ball, charging onto a headed clearance 25 yards out to connect with as clean a half-volley as you are likely to see.
His unstoppable strike scorched into the bottom-right corner of the net to immediately draw his team level and prompt one of the loudest roars of celebration heard from a Ton support in a long, long time.
The 22-year-old midfielder is not known for his prowess in front of goal but he seems to have the taste for scoring in derbies, with three of his four Ton strikes coming against his hometown club.
We were brought crashing back down to earth just as quickly, unfortunately, Gavin Reilly expertly turning home a Cammy Smith cross from the right to edge the Saints back in front on 72 minutes.
In what would turn out to be a key moment, hitman Reilly steered a left-footed shot a whisker wide of the right post from inside the box shortly after scoring.
Another goal so soon after the second would surely have sealed the win, but the Ton survived the close shave and went on to level the scores again on 79 minutes.
The Greenock men had been left frustrated after seeing a couple of penalty claims involving tussles inside the box rejected, but whistler McLean pointed to the spot after a Gregor Buchanan foul on Lamie.
Veteran Harkins had been one of his team’s top performers on the day, providing a real presence in the middle of the park and generally leading by example all afternoon.
He took responsibility for what was a pressure penalty but was coolness personified as he strode forward and stroked a controlled strike into the bottom-right corner beyond Samson’s dive.
The goal sparked more wild scenes amongst the 1,113 fans in the away end and silenced the home supporters who had been taunting the former Saint throughout the contest.
Although Morton finished the match on the front foot and looked the team most likely to take all three points, the second derby of the season ended in stalemate.
It can only be considered a positive point from the visitors’ perspective – and one that established them as the first team to take anything away from the Paisley 2021 Stadium on league duty this term.
6. Doyle 4. O’Ware (c) 5. Lamie 17. Russell
8. Forbes 3. Murdoch 14. Harkins 15. Tiffoney
Subs used: 11. McHugh (for Quitongo, 55), 10. Thomson (Tiffoney, 75), and 22. Armour (for Harkins, 88).
Subs not used: 21. Langan, 23. Barr, 36. Hynes, 20. Doohan (gk).
Booked: O’Ware (64), Doyle (66), Forbes (66), Oliver (90+2).
St Mirren (4141): Samson; L. Smith, Baird, Buchanan, Demetriou; Magennis (Stewart, 61), McGinn (c), McShane, Morgan; C. Smith, Reilly.
Subs not used: Irvine, Sutton, Hilson, McCart, MacPherson, Langfield (gk).
Booked: Buchanan (78), Reilly (83).
Referee: Steven McLean
Attendance: 5,496 (1,113 away fans)
Images: David Bell