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