St John­stone spoil Mor­ton’s party as County call tune in High­land fling


IT took St John­stone 130 years to win their first ma­jor tro­phy. What chance an­other just two years later? They re­main in good shape to do so, hav­ing booked their place in the semi-fi­nals of the League Cup cour­tesy of this hard­fought vic­tory over SPFL Cham­pi­onship side Mor­ton. They have a while to go yet be­fore they can start think­ing about book­ing an­other open-top bus pa­rade around Perth, but you sus­pect that the other three sides will be happy to avoid a pair­ing with Tommy Wright’s men when the semi-fi­nal draw is made a week on Mon­day.

They made heavy work, though, of over­com­ing Mor­ton at a driz­zly Cap­pielow to earn their pas­sage through, cre­at­ing but miss­ing a bun­dle of first-half chances and then hav­ing to re­cover from fall­ing a goal be­hind early in the sec­ond half. A penalty, a ter­rific shot from Michael O’Hal­lo­ran and a late Chris Kane counter would ul­ti­mately prove enough, al­low­ing St John­stone to con­tinue to dream of a maiden League Cup suc­cess.

“We got what we de­served,” said Wright. “It was a good per­for­mance, with a lot of qual­ity. We prob­a­bly should have been at least one goal up by half-time only for good goal­keep­ing and us hit­ting the wood­work to deny us. We then got caught with a sucker punch with their goal but we had the char­ac­ter to bounce back right away. Mor­ton never re­ally cre­ated any clear-cut chances and that was down to the way we de­fended.”

Mor­ton’s re­cent cup record is an on­go­ing tale of woe and here was the lat­est chap­ter. They last com­peted in a ma­jor semi-fi­nal in the 1981 Scot­tish Cup, while their pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ance in the last four of this com­pe­ti­tion came two years pre­vi­ously.

They would fall short again here but not with­out giv­ing it a de­cent whirl first. Most of their most promis­ing moves ar­rived on the counter at­tack but they still posed enough of a threat to cause the St John­stone defence oc­ca­sional. When they moved in front early in the sec­ond half glory tem­po­rar­ily beck­oned only for their vis­i­tors’ su­pe­ri­or­ity to fi­nally ease them through.

“It was a strange game as I thought St John­stone were the bet­ter side in the first half and their de­liv­er­ies from set pieces were caus­ing us real prob­lems,” said Mor­ton man­ager Jim Duffy. “In the sec­ond half I then thought we looked quite com­fort­able and scored a good goal. Over­all though I can’t com­plain. Con­grat­u­la­tions to St John­stone and good luck to them in the semi-fi­nals.”

St John­stone were the dom­i­nant side for most of the game al­though waste­ful with it. An at­tack­ing line-up that in­cluded Gra­ham Cum­mins, Steven MacLean and O’Hal­lo­ran – backed up by Mur­ray David­son, Si­mon Lappin and Liam Craig – was al­ways go­ing to cre­ate chances but Wright could not have ex­pected his team to then miss so many of them, his boom­ing voice reg­u­larly re­veal­ing his an­guish loud into the Greenock night.

Mor­ton could not sim­ply cope with St John­stone’s aerial threat. Cum­mins headed into the ground and onto the cross­bar from a Craig de­liv­ery, Joe Shaugh­nessy had a sim­i­lar chance at the back post scut­tled around the post by Gas­ton, while from the other side Lappin’s cross was helped to­wards goal by Steven An­der­son.

St John­stone would pay for their profli­gacy when Mor­ton moved into an un­likely lead af­ter 52 min­utes. It was a well-worked move, Ste­fan McCluskey and Conor Pep­per com­bin­ing be­fore the lat­ter picked out Denny John­stone with the cut­back. There were plenty of de­fend­ers around him but the on-loan Birm­ing­ham City for­ward showed great com­po­sure to fin­ish past Man­nus.

On such mo­ments, cup ties can of­ten be won and lost but this game was far from over. St John­stone, per­haps mind­ful of the rol­lock­ing Wright would dole out should they lose, came again and within 12 min­utes they had drawn level and then moved in front.

They en­joyed luck both about the cre­ation and ex­e­cu­tion of their equaliser on the hour mark. Good­ness knows what Ross Forbes was think­ing as he stuck out an arm to con­nect with Lappin’s cor­ner but referee Craig Thom­son did not hes­i­tate to award the penalty. MacLean’s penalty was not well placed but the sheer power of it was enough to beat the goal­keeper.

St John­stone’s sec­ond goal was more con­ven­tional. David­son found O’Hal­lo­ran wide on the touch­line and when the Mor­ton defence was slow to close him down the for­ward found the far cor­ner with an unerring shot that looked des­tined for the net as soon as it left his foot. O’Hal­lo­ran was also in­volved as St John­stone sealed the win eight min­utes from time, self­lessly play­ing in Kane who couldn’t miss.

Pic­ture: SNS

SURE SHOT: Michael O’Hal­lo­ran tucks away St John­stone’s sec­ond as the Perth side knocked Mor­ton out.

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