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Hamilton 10 Morton 2: Total football proves academic

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Hamilton players listen for the result from Dens Park, to find out if they have made it to the SPFL Premiership. Picture: SNS
Hamilton players listen for the result from Dens Park, to find out if they have made it to the SPFL Premiership. Picture: SNS

All of the names of the Morton players - except Dougie Imrie, who scored twice and won a penalty - have been removed from this report to preserve their last shreds of dignity.

SAY this for Hamilton Academical, say that they gave it their best shot. It was an extraordinary afternoon of drama, of whispers and roars, as news from afar filtered through headphones then was twisted in the telling. Dumbarton had scored. No, they hit the post! It was one of those days.

For a brief period in the first half, the visiting support revelled in the occasion. "There's only one Paul Hartley," they chanted, then Christian Nade got the plaudits, after he scored his side's second in far away Dundee. They had little else to cheer.

Tony Andreu scored a first-half hat trick, but was overshadowed by the four strikes of his partner in attack. The Morton defence melted time and again. Their formation was all over the place; in fact, it would be kind to say they even had one. Kenny Shiels, the visitors' manager, looked a broken man at the end. His one-word answers are not even worth reproducing. When it was pointed out that he would have a summer to reflect on this result, his dead eyes glazed over.

For Hamilton, Louis Longridge was magnificent again; he seems to have all the time in the world to control the ball, adjust his feet and glide past defenders. He skipped to the byeline twice to square for two first-half goals. "The boy's a star!" exclaimed another journalist, one used to the top flight, slumming it for the day and a title decider.

Other things happened, too many to list them all. Grant Gillespie got a hatful of assists. The Morton centre-back who scored the own goal was hopeless. The player on loan from Rangers went missing. His bearded team-mate, playing up front, missed a penalty. Hamilton's goalkeeper, Kevin Cuthbert, saved it, then was later replaced to a shower of cheers.

"It was crazy, eh?" Mickael Antoine-Curier said, shaking his head. He lost track of when the players began to believe that something magical might happen. "It was after Mikey Devlin scored, or maybe after I got the hat trick, somebody said to me, 'we need to score two more goals'. We did our bit. We had to go for it."

Gillespie could not believe it either. "Once we got to five, six, seven, you realise you could do this," the midfielder said. "It would have taken just a goal from Dumbarton, that would have been it."

All of their miracles, though, all the smiting down with righteous fury of Morton's hopeless midfield and backline, could not absolve the sins of the week before. Antoine-Curier was dropped for that Dumbarton defeat. "I had tears in my eyes [after that game]," he said, before reflecting again on what had just occurred. "To score four goals in a game … the last time I did this was for Paris Saint-Germain when I was 14."

The last half-hour of the match was almost unbearable. Dumbarton had scored a second. The crowd roared, not knowing, thinking the title was within their grasp. But the news was false. It filtered down to the players on the pitch who dashed about, with two goals left to score. Could they do it in the 10 minutes left? Yes, with time to spare, but it was not enough.

For a while after Imrie struck his second for Morton, it seemed like the most heartbreaking tragedy might come to pass: losing out to goals scored by one they regard as their own. In the end, the hosts got what they needed and Imrie was applauded off the pitch. "Dougie, Dougie," the crowd chanted.

What a season it has been, and with more to come. Alex Neil's team have little more than a week in which to stew on this win and distil some of that confidence. A play-off against Falkirk or Queen of the South awaits, with the winner to face the 11th-placed side in the SPFL Premiership. "If we have a performance like that, I think we should ask ourselves 'why not?'," said Antoine-Curier.

Some of the Morton fans had brought a beach ball. Hamilton are not yet on their holidays.

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