MORTON, thy name is kingmaker.
The SPFL Championship title race has four clubs involved, and one of them sits rock bottom of the table.
At last, Kenny Shiels' side managed a victory when it really mattered. Unfortunately, it was only of interest to their opponents. Nevertheless, Morton put a cat among the Greenock gulls by upsetting Dundee, and their last two fixtures are against Falkirk and Hamilton Academical. They are going down in a sad blaze of wretched glory.
Chance after chance went begging for the visitors. Peter MacDonald, playing at the ground where he spent three years, had at least five, but they all either flashed wide or were saved.
Christian Nade came closest to scoring - at least in the eyes of the away support - when he was put through in the second half. The travelling faithful roared with joy after their striker's powerful shot. But the ball bounced off the concrete of the standing section behind the goal. Surely it had burst the net? But no, the big striker had fluffed it and the crowd, disbelieving, sat back down on the sun-baked stone steps.
Paul Hartley seethed at full-time. His players were told they were not to talk to the media. "We had enough chances to win it, clear-cut opportunities," he said. "We didn't take our chances and you're always vulnerable to the opposition getting one chance and finishing it - which they did. We've got to dust ourselves down and go next week."
Morton's winner came from a moment of, if not magic, then at least fleeting competence from Rowan Vine. The bearded forward was mostly absent in attack, not so much a false No.9 as a false footballer. He missed the best chance of the first half, played through wonderfully after clever work from Barrie McKay but, perhaps forgetting for a moment he is no longer a Hibernian striker, he blasted the ball over the bar when it looked easier to score.
But he would shrug off his lack of canniness to make the vital contribution. Darting down the right flank with a little more than 10 minutes to go, Vine muscled his way to the byline, before cutting the ball back to Dougie Imrie whose finish was guided perfectly into the top-right corner. Imrie had been clattered by Iain Davidson earlier in the game, but his senses seemed clear enough. Post-match, though, his view of the offence was a little muddled.
"Three stitches," he moaned. "It was sore, man, he should have been sent off, the boy, straight elbow to me. He didnae really mean it, to be fair …it was just one of those wans. I'm no' saying it was a booking or sending-aff, but it wis a free kick."
He was clearer, though, albeit while offering little sympathy, when it came to assessing Dundee's plethora of missed opportunities. "They're under pressure, it's all on them," he said, bluntly. "They've got to handle that. On another day he [MacDonald] probably gets a hat trick."
Behind the far goal, a fellow had climbed about 15 feet up a tree to watch the match. For much of the opening half, he seemed to have outwitted the rest of the crowd by braving the spiky branches with the 15 quid ticket money safe in his pocket for a couple of pints later. As the match ticked on, though, and Dundee looked visibly shaken by their failure to score, the atmosphere surged as the home fans gleefully chanted towards the away end. After the goal, even the tie-wearing, sharp-suited bourgeoisie of the directors' box got involved, standing up, singing and pointing, before giggling at their misbehaviour.
Morton took charge, and broke several times as Dundee desperately tried to pile forward. The Cappielow clock stopped, stuck on half past four. But the referee had the time on his wrist, and it ticked down inexorably to the end, leaving Dundee to rue their missed chances.
Shiels, unusually, drew a parallel to his time with Kilmarnock. "It's only a year, last April," said the Morton manager. "I know how Dundee feel because all we had to do was beat them or draw and we were in the top six. It was our day today."
Were his players spurred on by the hordes of visiting supporters? The chanting at times reverberated across Cappielow. "No," said Shiels, shaking his head. "You look into the players' eyes and you see they're up for it."
Dundee have become the chasers, one point behind with only two games left to catch up, and Imrie is relishing having his say in the title race. "We're not going to lie down to anyone," he added. "It'll be a hard game next week for Falkirk, and it'll be a hard game for Hamilton."