Saturday 18 March 2017, 17.15, Falkirk Stadium
Scottish Championship action between Falkirk and Greenock Morton.
The late kick-off for live coverage on BBC Alba gave us the opportunity to catch two games. This match saw second play third, with Morton 3 points behind the hosts, but with two games in hand. Hibs were 6 points clear of Falkirk at the top, with Dundee United a point behind Morton having played the same number of games as them.
It was our third sight of the season of the Bairns, being at the Falkirk Stadium for their games against Dundee United and Hibs. It was the second time we’d seen Morton on their travels, having been at the Renfrewshire derby at St Mirren in August.
In the three match ups between the teams so far, Falkirk had won at home, there had been a league draw in Greenock and a win for Morton in the Scottish Cup, also at their home.
Falkirk were on a ten game unbeaten run since that Hogmanay defeat to Hibs, which included some disappointing draws and some impressive wins. This included ties at home with Dumbarton and Ayr United, but convincing wins against Dundee United and Queen of the South. Their last game had been a 4-1 win at Ayr United.
Morton have had a better season than even their most ardent fan could have imagined. A semi-final appearance in the league cup and a run to the 5th round of the Scottish Cup have been bonuses to their league form, which looks certain to earn them at least a play-off position in the race for promotion. February saw only one win in their four league games, but that did include draws with Falkirk and Dundee United. They had started off March with a win over Queen of the South.
There were 4,584 in attendance.
With two minutes gone, Shankland showed good strength to turn away from Gasparotto, but his half volley from 20 yards was well over the Falkirk bar.
Austin had a good run down the left for the Bairns in 5 minutes and his cross found Baird at the front post, but he was unable to direct his flick on the Morton goal.
The first corner of the game was won by Baird for Falkirk in 6 minutes and Aird’s cross found the head of Grant, but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Austin found Baird around 22 yards from the Morton goal in the 7th minute, but his shot was too high.
It was clear to see why the match ups between the sides previously had always been so tight as both teams were cancelling each other out. They were both happy to build up patiently, with the opposition working hard to close down any space. Consequently, there wasn’t much in the way of chances.
Following a period of Falkirk possession, Leahy crossed from the left and it was just too high for Baird. The ball came to the other side of the box where Aird hugely overhit his ball back into the middle.
Aird made some space for himself in 24 minutes, cutting in from the right, but his shot had no power and it was an easy take for Gaston. It was, however, good to finally have an effort on target.
Morton won a free kick about 25 yards out after a foul by Sibbald in 28 minutes, and Forbes cleverly played it to Oliver inside the box which caught the Bairns defence napping. He chipped it to the back post where O’Ware was in space, but he volleyed over from 6 yards. I think the whole Morton team had their heads in their hands.
The home side won a corner in 31 minutes and Morton couldn’t get the ball fully away. The passage of play ended with Baird curling a ball to the back post that was just too far in front of Austin.
A long ball into the Falkirk area from a free kick on half way in 34 minutes saw Shankland head the ball down in the box and Oliver seemed to get a touch to it before Grant bundled into him, but the referee waved away the appeals.
In the last minute of the half, Sibbald showed some good skill before playing the ball right to Kidd. His cross into the Morton box was met on the volley by Baird, but Gaston made a great reaction save to push it away.
Goalless at half time and you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the closing down and work rate of Morton. They were pressing all over the park and their energy was excellent. They probably should have had a penalty and O’Ware should have scored. Falkirk were certainly in the game and were also working hard, and they could easily have been in front from Baird’s volley.
Shankland got his head to a Morton corner take by Oliver in 47 minutes, but it flashed across the face of the goal.
Kerr was booked for a foul on Forbes in 54 minutes and Forbes took it himself, curling the free kick at the Falkirk goal which was central, but Rogers was forced to tip it over. Falkirk got the corner away, but Morton captain Kilday required treatment in the box after landing awkwardly. He was able to continue.
A long ball into the Morton box in 61 minutes found Baird running through, but he misjudged his header and it was an easy take for Gaston.
Austin chased the ball into the Morton box in 70 minutes with defender O’Ware and the ‘Ton defender seemed to lose his balance and fall. The referee judged that Austin had pulled him down, but there hadn’t looked to be any contact.
Falkirk came forward in 72 minutes and Sibbald played the ball into the feet of Hippolyte. He cleverly flicked the ball to Austin who gave him the ball back on the left of the box. He put it back into the middle, but Austin missed his kick and the defence got the ball away.
Oyenuga showed good strength in bursting into the Falkirk box in 77 minutes, but Kidd got back to turn the ball behind.
Morton attacked down the left in 79 minutes and Nesbitt checked back before curling a ball to the back post where Oyenuga rose well to head the ball back across goal and into the net past the despairing dive of Rogers to give the away side the lead.
A minute later and up the other end, Leahy’s ball to the back post was headed across goal by Austin and came back off the post with Gaston beaten, and McHugh couldn’t get a foot on it as it bounced back into the arms of the grateful keeper.
Falkirk’s Craigen was booked in 82 minutes for a late tackle on Nesbitt.
Leahy swung another cross into the Morton box in 83 minutes and Austin headed it down for McHugh to hit a low shot on the half volley which went wide of the post.
Hippolyte crossed from the left in 87 minutes and McHugh flicked goalwards at the front post, but it went inches wide of the far post with Gaston rooted to the spot.
Falkirk were really upping the tempo at this point and Hippolyte found Leahy around 20 yards from goal in 89 minutes and his effort wasn’t too far over the bar.
As Falkirk pushed more and more players forward, they were caught out in the first minute of injury time when Donnelly won the ball from Sibbald and played the ball over the top of the Falkirk defence for Oyenuga. The striker was clean through on goal, but Rogers saved with his leg.
The final whistle blew to the delight of the travelling supporters.
Not a game filled with goalmouth incident, but certainly one which held the attention with two evenly matched sides. Very competitive, but never dirty with only two bookings, for Falkirk’s Aird and Kerr.
An incredibly hard working Morton team who are doing a lot better than anyone imagined.
Baird got through a power of work up front for the Bairns before he was taken off, and Forbes and Nesbitt impressed for Morton.
Full Time: Falkirk 0 Morton 1
Falkirk: 1 Danny Rogers, 2 Lewis Kidd, 15 Luca Gasparotto, 14 Peter Grant, 3 Luke Leahy, 7 Tom Taiwo, 8 Mark Kerr (Hippolyte 65), 10 Craig Sibbald, 33 Fraser Aird (Craigen 75), 9 John Baird (McHugh 72), 16 Nathan Austin. Subs: 4 Aaron Muirhead, 11 Myles Hippolyte, 18 Lee Miller, 19 Bob McHugh, 21 Scott Shepherd, 24 Robbie Thomson, 28 James Craigen.
Morton: 1 Derek Gaston, 2 Lee Kilday, 4 Thomas O’Ware, 3 Ricki Lamie, 17 Mark Russell, 21 Andy Murdoch, 8 Ross Forbes, 10 Jamie Lindsay, 11 Aidan Nesbitt, 7 Gary Oliver (Donnelly 78), 16 Lawrence Shankland (Oyenuga 64). Subs: 9 Kudus Oyenuga, 12 Michael Tidser, 14 Jon Scullion, 18 Jamie McDonagh, 19 Luke Donnelly, 30 Jamie McGowan