MORTON seem to be finally getting the hang of this. Having waited more than 17 years to record their first competitive victory over neighbours St Mirren last November, they followed it up with a second in nine months in yesterday’s first Renfrewshire derby of the campaign. In the end it was both convincing and well-deserved, too.

St Mirren had travelled to Greenock and were 4-1 winners in the previous meeting between these teams so how sweet it was for the Morton fans among the crowd of 4661 to watch their team claim instant revenge by the same scoreline. It could have been more had Morton not wasted two glorious chances in the first half, although St Mirren will claim the outcome could have been different had they not been reduced to 10 men so early in the second half following Jack Baird’s sending off.

There was an element of the inevitable, though, about that red card. The St Mirren defence had looked as comfortable as a pair of nettle-laced underpants in their combined efforts to contain the threat of Jai Quitongo who wreaked merry havoc at the apex of the Morton line-up. The striker is undoubtedly still a raw work-in-progress but St Mirren could not handle either his pace or his power.

Loading article content

The 19-year-old missed the second half of last season with a serious knee injury but that lay-off has evidently done little to stint his development. He won his side’s first penalty midway through the first half after drawing Baird into a needless tackle with the ball set to dribble out of play, released Bob McHugh with a pass that led to the second penalty, then set up the same player for the third Morton goal that effectively killed the game.

Michael Tidser, who confidently stroked both penalties beyond Craig Samson, was given the official man of the match award but Quitongo could have felt aggrieved at not getting the nod. If Morton can hang on to him beyond the end of this transfer window, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the Championship this season.

“Jai’s only 19, he’s been injured for a long time and, although if anything he’s even quicker since he came back, he’s maybe wanting to make too much of an impact too soon,” was manager Jim Duffy’s assessment of the striker. “He’s desperate to be successful, but today he showed his true quality, not just in terms of his running power, but his strength and his vision as well.”

Baird was booked for conceding the first penalty – the award looked soft although St Mirren manager Jack Ross had no complaints – but did not heed that lesson nor the half-time warning from his manager not to make the same mistake twice.

Four minutes into the second half he made a hash of trying to cut out Quitongo’s pass to McHugh, got on the wrong side of the forward and then pulled him to the ground. Referee Willie Collum did not hesitate before issuing the red card. It left St Mirren up against it for the remainder of the match.

“We spoke about it at half time, about being disciplined when you’re on a caution and within a few minutes Jack’s sent off,” sighed Ross. “There are times when it’s better to let the goal be scored and then you still have a long time to get back into the game with 11 men.

“The accountability will always fall upon me as a manager, but players don’t take the responsibility themselves often enough. As a back four, they needed to do better, to defend better.”

St Mirren were perhaps fortunate to be level at half time – both McHugh and then Thomas O’Ware missed glaring chances to extend Morton’s lead – but achieved parity through a terrific strike from Cammy Smith. Assuming possession around 30 yards from goal, he motored forward before uncorking a shot high past Derek Gaston. Even Duffy was impressed.

“It’s a wonder goal,” added the Morton manager. “Even as a defender you’re almost tempting him to hit it and he’s hit it sweet as you like. So we could have no complaints. We just had to regroup for the second half.”

Baird’s red card and Tidser’s second penalty soon had Morton back on the front foot. Going down to 10 men forced Ross into a reshuffle – striker John Sutton was removed for another defender in Gregor Buchanan – as St Mirren looked to find a way back into the contest.

McHugh’s tidy finish, however, brought an end to that prospect while a fourth for Morton was the cherry on the cake, McHugh laying on a perfectly-weighted pass for Andy Murdoch to thud beyond Samson. That was the cue for many of the 2000-strong away support to head for the exits.

“Once we conceded the third we didn’t want our pants pulled down and to be solid and see it out, but we didn’t do that either,” added Ross. “We’ve known the feeling of winning games a lot over the last six months, but the players also have to remember how this feels.”