Scott Vernon forces in Aberdeen's second goal
It has become a familiar refrain from Aberdeen fans to chunter discontentedly when their side come up against lower league opposition in the cups – the list of clubs to have got the better of them including such luminaries as East Fife, Raith Rovers and Queen of the South in recent seasons.
There was a tangible sense of relief, then, when Gavin Rae and Scott Vernon belatedly put them through to the third round of the Scottish Communities League Cup, even if they needed extra time to do it. The early weeks of the season have brought optimism from the Pittodrie side after a summer spent reconstructing both the strength of the side and their confidence. Both were tested by first division Morton last night.
The summer also brought recrimination and reinforcements for the hosts and the influx of new faces has also brought hope of success in a first division bereft of Ross County and Dundee.
It was one of the new arrivals, Stephen Stirling, who posed the first threat to Aberdeen, the midfielder's long-range strike needing to be clawed away by Jamie Langfield. There is a tendency to heighten the relevance of such chances – however slight – but Langfield was given further cause to fret throughout the first half. The robust Peter Weatherson spun inside the Aberdeen penalty area to force Mark Reynolds into a far less convincing clearance, before then directing two efforts on goal from outside the penalty area. The first had Langfield diving to clear.
David Graham was proving a similarly discomfiting proposition. The Morton winger hurdled one challenge and, emboldened, proceeded to surge forward with intent. It was unfortunate, then, that his eventual shot lacked similar conviction.
And yet it was an indication that Morton would refuse to feel cowed by Clydesdale Bank Premier League opposition. Despite assembling a squad capable of mounting a league challenge the season has got off to a modest start for the Cappielow side – there have been two draws in the league and a defeat by Queen of the South in the Ramsdens Cup – but they wilfully challenged Aberdeen last night.
David O'Brien probably took that a little too far when he was booked for a lunge on Isaac Osbourne as did Michael Tidser, who left the sprightly Ryan Fraser in a crumpled heap early on.
Derek Gaston was proving just as formidable, but less abrasive. The goalkeeper has seemed a shrewd acquisition from Albion Rovers in the close season and his stature rose last night. A pre-match downpour made conditions uncomfortable for custodians but Gaston did enough to repel Aberdeen's advances, first parrying Ryan Jack's skidding shot after 16 minutes before getting both hands to divert Fraser's cross five minutes later. The ball then fell to the feet of Rae but the Aberdeen midfielder conspired to drill a shot into the chest of the Morton goalkeeper. He would make up for it, though.
It was the first real chance of the tie. Such opportunities were a premium. Aberdeen were more convincing in their passing but it was from the wide areas that they offered the greater threat. That is perhaps not surprising given the arrival of Johnny Hayes from Inverness Caledonian Thistle and emergence of the prodigious Fraser, and both took turns in causing the hosts problems.
It was a cross from Jack early in the second half that gave Vernon his first real sight of goal, the youngster's delivery into the penalty area nodded narrowly wide of the post. Another move worked in from the right flank resulted in Rae stinging the palms of Gaston once again, before another palmed save from an Andy Considine effort led to Hayes blazing a shot over the crossbar.
Progress to the third round of the competition would demand a more composed head. McLaughlin almost provided it when he bulleted a header at goal from a corner midway through the second half only to be penalised for a push inside the box. Moments earlier substitute Archie Campbell raced in behind the Aberdeen defence and Langfield was forced to flick his shot round a post.
The match also charged on at pace. Gaston had his crossbar to thank for keeping a Fraser corner out and Campbell was sent clear once again only for Reynolds to recover to stifle the chance as the tie cantered into extra time. Both sides probed – substitute Peter Pawlett and Graham both flashed balls across the goalmouth – but it inevitably became an exercise in defiance for Morton. They finally relented after a header from Rae and a calm finish from Vernon.
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