Jamie Gullan’s emphatic late winner sunk an uninspiring Greenock Morton side, as Raith Rovers further tightened their grasp on second place, courtesy of a 1-0 win at Stark’s Park. Seán McGill reports.
The Hibernian loanee made his mark off the bench as his late goal kept Raith as best of the rest in Championship for the time being.
Both sides came into this one off the back of Scottish Cup victories on Tuesday night, as Raith picked up a 2-0 win away to Stirling Albion, while their Fife rivals Dunfermline were pipped on penalties by Morton.
Dylan Tait’s goal at Forthbank earned him a starting spot in league action, while Adam King also kept his place. Kyle Benadictus, who scored in last week’s 1-1 draw with Ayr United again captained the side.
Gus MacPherson made two changes from the side that squeezed through midweek. Luca Colville and Stephen McGinn came in for Craig McGuffie and Kaz Sterling. The goalscorers from last week’s 2-1 league victory over Queen of the South, Gary Oliver and Aidan Nisbet, continued in attack for Morton.
The first real opening of the game came in the fifth minute as Gary Oliver drove at the Raith defence from the left. The striker cut inside and sent a teasing ball squarely onto the foot of Darren Hynes, but the wingback was ruled to be offside as he knocked the ball just wide of Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
It took a while for another clear cut chance to materialise, with both sides’ tactical shapes being the most interesting observation. Morton’s 3-4-3 was built to give them numbers in attack in transition, while Regan Hendry looked to dictate the play from the base of a midfield diamond for Raith.
The hosts eventually carved out a chance on the 24th minute. Kieran MacDonald had space on the left to send in a fantastic cross onto the head of Gozie Ugwu, but the striker’s header sailed over the bar.
Raith’s willingness to play out from the back almost cost them after half an hour, when Stephen McGinn picked up a slack pass. The St Mirren loanee feinted to shoot before cutting inside, attempting to curl the ball beyond MacDonald, but his strike eluded the goal entirely.
The pattern of the game continued as the half drew to a close, with the Ton content in letting Raith knock the ball around before springing into life when they got the chance to counter.
The second period began with a decent Rovers chance as Reghan Tumulty cut inside and delivered a looping cross into the centre of the box, but Ugwu’s header fell straight into the arms of Aidan McAdams as the striker struggled under pressure.
John McGlynn’s side looked intent on posing more of a goal threat in the second half. Dan Armstrong, operating behind the two strikers, played a one-two with Hendry from 20 yards out, but the number 8 failed to arrow his strike on target.
Armstrong was again involved just before the hour mark. His sensational deep cross from the right landed on the head of Manny Duku and it looked as thought Rovers would grab the game’s opening goal before the striker directed his effort over the bar.
McAdams made the first real save of the game from substitute Lewis Vaughan’s fierce effort from the edge of the area. The striker picked up a flick on and danced his way towards goal, slaloming through the opposition, and then forcing the Morton keeper into a fine save down to his right.
It was another substitute who finally gave the hosts the breakthrough in the 81st minute. A floated corner from the right was headed on by Duku and lurking at the back post was Jamie Gullan, whose low driven strike rattled the ball off the inside of the far post to give Rovers a deserved lead.
As was the case for the entire game, Aidan Nesbitt looked Morton’s best chance of providing in the dying minutes. Chasing a long ball, he found himself with a sight at goal, but failed to get a clean connection on the ball under the pressure of man of the match Frankie Musonda, with the ball trickling into the grasp of MacDonald.
It was the busiest the Raith stopper was all day, as Morton’s lack of ambition cost them in a game of few clear cut chances. Rovers lacked cutting edge throughout, but Gullan’s winner proved enough as the hosts picked up a big three points in the playoff race.
It’s a Fife derby this coming Tuesday, as Raith welcome Dunfermline to Stark’s Park in the Championship, while Morton aren’t in action until the weekend, where they’ll travel back to Fife, visiting Bayview this time, as they take on East Fife in the Scottish Cup.