ALLAN MOORE was expecting the call.
He had fielded enough of them already this week, each one pertaining to the meeting between his Morton side and Partick Thistle tomorrow and the significance it will have on where the Irn-Bru First Division title ends up at the end of the season. The manager is quite aware of the interest that is being invested in a match that could extend his club's lead to 11 points, then, and he sees little reason why he shouldn't be able to get in on the action, too. "Just tell me what you want me to say . . . but what's my cut going to be?"
The real pay-off to that pithy line is a mischievous grin and an insight into how comfortable Moore is with the pressure of a fixture which could define his side's season, and that of Partick. The Firhill side will walk away from Cappielow tomorrow evening knowing that they still have three games in hand, but the knowledge that giving an inch to their chief title rivals will allow them to go miles ahead at the top of the table could make it hard for Partick to keep a handle on their own ambitions.
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It is that which has steered Moore's approach this week, as well as a resolute belief that he has a squad which is now strong enough to carry the Greenock club over the line. Their Cappielow home needs to be upgraded, of course, although such plans are not straightforward given league reconstruction talks could lead to requirements being redrawn.
Having taken charge in 2010, he has now recast his Morton squad three times, and the latest makeover is working a charm. With just two defeats in their last 12 league games, his side have done a convincing impression of a title-winning team and their form has been accented by experience, since Mark McLaughlin, Martin Hardie, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Peter MacDonald and Colin McMenamin have all won the first division before. Their nous has helped to colour the performances of their greener team-mates this season but it is the energy from Moore which has helped fuel his side's journey towards promotion to the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
A lively winger in his playing days, the 48-year-old has successfully bridled his enthusiasm in his roles as manager of Stirling Albion – where he twice won promotion – and Morton, but it is still barely contained within the technical area. Indeed, when Moore has opted for a seat in the stand in some home games this season it has not been long until his zeal has caused him to spill back into the dug out.
Such fervour has proven infectious and Moore commands a genuine affection from his players. It is that trust in their manager which has allowed him to challenge them on moments when they have come undone in the past ahead of such a crucial fixture. "It eclipses the two games we've had [against Partick] earlier on in the season and it eclipses the one when we got beaten 5-0 at Firhill last year," Moore says. "I hope the Morton fans turn out and when they do and I'm going to demand that my players put on a performance for a change because they have let them down so many times, at home especially. But I've got a good feeling about the boys."
It has been some time since supporters have been able to feel the same way. The temptation for many has been to look back to 1996 and the last time their club flirted with a place in the top flight, only to be jilted on the final day when a 2-2 draw with Dundee United was bettered by Dunfermline Athletic in their meeting with Airdrie. That near-thing at Cappielow has become folklore for fans, one with an intriguing footnote since it was Moore who won the late penalty that day which put the Fife side within 12 yards of a place in the top division. He is now close to making amends.
Just how close remains to be seen but Moore predicts that nine wins will prove enough keep the title out of Partick's reach. It jars a little that he can treat that aim so bluntly, but it is not long before his comments are sharpened. "If we win on Saturday then it will be ours to lose," he says. "If we can beat Thistle and go 11 clear then it might give us an edge psychologically. It is a game which is getting built up and rightly so.
"Thistle have got a lot of games coming up in a short space of time. We saw the other night how difficult those games are going to be as one of them is against Cowdenbeath [who defeated Dunfermline Athletic 4-2 on Tuesday night]; one of them is Hamilton and another is Raith Rovers. Those teams are all fighting for their lives."
Such a comment was designed to heighten the stress on a Partick side left rusty by a period of indolence that stretches back to January 26 – when they overcame Cowdenbeath – and without a key component after Jackie McNamara last month resigned his post as manager to take over at Dundee United. Yet it also serves as a cautionary tale for Morton, a first-person account of which comes from their manager. "I've been in the situation before at Stirling when we were 11 points behind and we clawed that back to win the league [in 2010]," says Moore. "So I've been stressing to the players to just keep focusing on getting three points."
It is the sort of call to duty his squad will have expected. Now it is up to them to answer it.