Stalemate sees Morton gain valuable point against Hearts
A game of low quality at Cappielow saw the points shared. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Hearts arrived at Cappielow as champions, after Dundee and Raith Rovers both failed to find a victory that would prevent the Jmabos winning the title before they next took to the field.
Hearts thrashed Alloa 6-0 at Tynecastle 11 days ago and manager Robbie Neilson stuck with the same 11 in the hope of securing three points in front of the BBC Scotland cameras in Greenock.
As for Morton, they find themselves in a three-way battle to avoid the dreaded playoff, alongside former manager David Hopkin’s Ayr United and Dick Campbell’s Arbroath.
The Ton currently occupy ninth spot but would leapfrog Ayr United with a victory over the Jambos, however with Alloa and Arbroath to come in their remaining two league fixtures after tonight, surely Morton manager Gus MacPherson would be glad of a confidence boosting point, ahead of their more winnable remaining fixtures.
MacPherson made just the two changes to the side that was defeated on penalties in the Scottish Cup at Fir Park on Friday night. Ex Jambo Robbie Muirhead and Morton’s only scorer against Hearts this season, Craig McGuffie, were replaced by Reece Lyon and Kalvin Orsi.
The hosts almost got off to the perfect start after just 60 seconds. The two players brought into the Morton starting 11 linked well, Lewis Strapp flicked on a hopeful freekick and Kalvin Orsi’s right foot volley came back off the post, an early escape for the visitors.
The opening 25 minutes passed without any real excitement, the cross-field passes from John Souttar to right-back Shay Logan were a weapon Hearts attempted to utilise regularly in the early stages.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the opening half hour though was Logan twice attempting a pass to a teammate and on both occasions failing to make any real contact, before looking down in disbelief at the massive divots he had taken out of a rather sandy looking surface.
Brian McLean was next to go close for the hosts, as Aidan Nesbitt’s corner dropped to him, but the central defender’s effort was straight at Craig Gordon. Two minutes later Morton went close again, this time Armand Gnanduillet’s attempted clearance came back off a Morton shirt and Gordon had to be alert to prevent the ball from sneaking in at his near post.
The hosts would’ve been the happier of the two sides at the break and if before the match MacPherson might’ve accepted a point, after the first 45 minutes he would’ve been telling his players that there were definitely three on the table for his side in the second half.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Hearts create an early second half chance, after what you’d expect would’ve been the hairdryer treatment the players received from Neilson at half time. Good work from Andy Halliday set up Gnanduillet, whose effort was blocked and cleared for a corner, which came to nothing.
Sean Ledger was having a good game at right wing back for The Ton. He slipped in Nesbitt, who supplied the cross for what should’ve been the opening goal, but Kyle Jacobs got more contact on the ball than was required though and his near-post header flew over.
Neilson had seen enough and on the hour mark, introduced Steven Naismith and Gary Mackay-Steven in place of Logan and Euan Henderson as Hearts switched to four at the back.
With no improvement from Hearts after the double substitution, Scott McGill was given game time for the first time since November, taking the place of Aaron McEneff.
Craig Halkett was thrown up front in a last-ditch attempt to take three points back to Gorgie, but if truth be told, Hearts never looked like winning this game and frankly didn’t deserve a point out of it, never mind three.
Referee John Beaton put everyone at Cappielow out of their misery after two minutes of stoppage time. A good point on the whole for Morton, but considering the quality of Hearts’ performance, it’s hard not to feel that they could and should have taken all three.
Hearts will be given the Championship trophy at Tynecastle on Saturday, while it’s a completely different state of affairs for Morton – who host already relegated Alloa – hoping to maintain their Championship status and stave off the threat of a competitive two-leg playoff.
Morton manager Gus MacPherson admits he was delighted with his side’s performance and says he couldn’t have asked them for anymore.
“A good point, a good performance. They worked hard. Their effort and application was outstanding again. If you work like that, then you’ve got a chance of taking something from a game. Hearts have left frustrated tonight and I can’t ask my players for anymore.”
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was less pleased with his side’s display and accepts that the performance simply wasn’t good enough.
“It’ll be a hard game to watch back in the morning that’s for sure. It’s a very very difficult surface to play football on. We tried to play football and the ball was bobbling about every time we tried to pass it. Obviously, we came here to win the game, but it wasn’t to be tonight. Looking forward to Saturday though, Inverness and Raith will both open up and try win the game, so it should be two good games to end the season with.”