Saturday 6 August 2016, 15.00, Paisley 2021 Stadium
The opening day of the Scottish Championship season and the Renfrewshire derby between St Mirren and Morton.
St Mirren were formed in 1877 and began life playing at their home ground at Shortroods. They were founder members of the Scottish Football league in 1890.
Playing in the top league for the majority of their existence, they have won three Scottish Cups, one League Cup, four second level league titles and the Scottish League Challenge Cup. They played in European competition four times in the 1980s.
After three further grounds, they settled on St Mirren Park, or Love Street as it was more commonly known in 1894. They stayed there until 2009 and this is my first visit to their new ground in Paisley.
Relegation came in 2014-15 and they finished sixth last year in the Championship. Alex Rae took over as manager in December 2015.
For the new season they have signed Ben Gordon from Livingston, Gary MacKenzie from Doncaster Rovers, David Clarkson from Motherwell, although he was on loan with the Saints since January, John Sutton from St Johnstone, Scott Gallacher from Alloa Athletic and Kyle Hutton from Queen of the South. They have also brought in loanees Tom Walsh and Ryan Hardie from Rangers and Lawrence Shankland from Aberdeen.
Greenock Morton (the Greenock was officially added in 1994) were founded in 1874 and were one of the founding members of the old Second Division, formed in 1893.
Morton won the Scottish Cup in 1922 winning one nil against Rangers, and achieved their highest league finish in 1916-17, finishing as runners-up to champions Celtic. They last played in the top league in 1988. In 2014-15, Morton won the Scottish League One on the final day in Jim Duffy’s first season in charge and finished one point and one place above St Mirren.
Morton have signed Michael Doyle from St Johnstone, Gary Oliver from Hearts, Jamie McDonagh from Sheffield United and Jamie Lindsay on loan from Celtic.
The new ground sits between an industrial and residential area and there are no pubs to speak of near the ground, although the city centre is less than a mile away. The facilities are modern, but it does seem small. Paisley St James train station is opposite the ground which you can get to from Glasgow Central in less than 20 minutes.
It’s a bit disappointing to see only 4,497 in the 8,023 capacity stadium for the season opener, and a derby at that. (1,145 away fans).
This is the second season in a row that both sides have found themselves in the same division after a gap of sixteen seasons. Morton haven’t beaten the Saints since 1999 (11 games).
The away side started well and Tidser picked up a loose ball in 7 minutes and let fly from distance. The ball clipped the top of the bar on the way over and it was an early warning to the home side.
In 11 minutes, St Mirren’s Baird picked up the game’s first booking for hauling down Quitongo. From the free kick, the ball was half cleared but when it was returned, Kilday was unmarked and his header thumped off the bar. Another escape for St Mirren.
Oliver was next to threaten the home goal, getting in behind the defence before shooting just wide in 14 minutes.
There was a very well observed minute’s applause for lifelong Saints fan Tam McGarry from all over the ground.
The St Mirren defence looked very shaky and the goal which had been coming arrived in 17 minutes. A free kick from Forbes was bulleted into the net by the stooping O’Ware from close range.
A direct free kick from Forbes wasn’t far away from giving Morton another before St Mirren had their first effort on goal in 21 minutes, Clarkson’s low shot going wide of goal.
The home fans were getting increasingly restless as Morton continued to make the running and Quitongo was next to come close in the 25th minute after being set up by Oliver, when he didn’t make good contact with his attempt at goal.
As the half progressed, the home side finally managed to get a foothold in the game and Baird shot wide in 28 minutes.
St Mirren were seeing more of the ball in the last 15 minutes of the half and Clarkson had a great chance for the equaliser just before half time. A quick exchange with Shankland saw him hit a rising shot which went just too high.
Oliver had the first chance of the second half, the Morton striker curling well over just a minute in.
St Mirren’s Naismith and Irvine and Morton’s Kilday all received bookings within the opening ten minutes of the second half as the game started to get scrappy.
Just before the third of the bookings, in 54 minutes, St Mirren’s Gallagher found Shankland at the edge of the box, but Kilday blocked the shot.
The home side were starting to boss the possession, but were creating very little and Oliver had another chance for Morton in 62 minutes, but he didn’t get power in his shot and it was comfortably saved by Langfield, who was there again two minutes later to save Tider’s long range effort.
Baird was fortunate not to get a second yellow card for taking out Quitongo.
St Mirren went to three at the back with 20 minutes left to try and get something out of the game, but it didn’t look like paying dividends as Morton looked comfortable protecting their narrow lead.
In 83 minutes, Morgan managed to get past Russell and reach the by-line. He crossed to the back post where several St Mirren players waited and it was substitute Sutton who was there first to head past Gaston to grab the leveler.
Both managers hadn’t been seated much throughout the game, and both were very animated now as they tried to push their teams on.
Morton almost got their noses back in front in 85 minutes when Lamie met a corner but couldn’t keep his header down.
Morgan crossed again for Sutton as we ticked past 90 minutes, but he headed well over, then Tidser was booked for a poor tackle on Shankland as the referee added six minutes, but there wasn’t to be a winner.
Morton could consider themselves unlucky not to win the three points, but St Mirren never gave up.
Naismith was best for St Mirren with O’Ware marshalling the Morton defence well at the other end. Moving O’Ware into midfield when St Mirren changed formation broke up their dominant defence.
I was surprised at the lack of animosity and even passion on display from the stands for a derby, I thought the fans would have hated each other, but it all seemed very cordial to me.
Full Time: St Mirren 1 Morton 1
St Mirren: 1 Jamie Langfield, 2 Jason Naismith, 3 Gary Irvine (Sutton 71), 15 Jack Baird, 4 Andy Webster, 11 Calum Gallagher (Walsh 65), 14 Kyle Hutton, 10 Stephen Mallan, 17 Lewis Morgan, 25 Lawrence Shankland, 7 David Clarkson (Hardie 51). Subs: 12 Scott Gallacher (GK), 9 John Sutton, 16 Tom Walsh, 20 Ryan Hardie, 35 Darren Whyte, 36 Connor O’Keefe, 39 Andrew McDonald.
Morton: 1 Derek Gaston, 2 Lee Kilday, 3 Ricki Lamie, 4 Thomas O’Ware, 6 Michael Doyle, 7 Gary Oliver (McAleer 90), 8 Ross Forbes, 10 Jamie Lindsay (Russell 76), 12 Michael Tidser, 18 Jamie McDonagh, 24 Jai Quitongo (Strapp 85). Subs: 20 Andrew McNeil (GK), 14 Jon Scullion, 16 Caolan McAleer, 17 Mark Russell, 21 Dylan Stevenson, 37 Scott Tiffoney, 39 Lewis Strapp.
Referee: Steven McLean.