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Morton 0 Raith Rovers 0: Striker adds weight to ample optimism with classy debut

DAVID ROBERTSON became a victim of circumstance on Saturday.

Garry O'Connor put the ball in the net when he made his debut for Morton, only for the effort to be ruled out contentiously for offside. Picture: SNS
Garry O'Connor put the ball in the net when he made his debut for Morton, only for the effort to be ruled out contentiously for offside. Picture: SNS

Morton's game with Raith Rovers was in its infancy when the anxiety which has crippled the Cappielow club of late began to take hold once more.

The SPFL Championship's bottom club had gone 406 minutes of football since they last scored a goal when Robertson found himself in uncharted territory. The midfielder had gambled on Dougie Hill, the Raith Rovers defender, making a hash of an interception when the ball spun to him 10 yards from goal with time to burn. Yet with only Ross Laidlaw to beat, the nervous tension within the ground proved too much as his hurried shot was parried away by the Fife side's goalkeeper.

However, the fact that this glorious miss did not result in the capitulation many supporters within Cappielow have reluctantly come to expect offers a crumb of comfort to the success-starved home fans. If anything, Morton appeared buoyed by the opportunity rather than crestfallen by the manner in which it was squandered. Debutant Garry O'Connor was later to put the ball into the net only for his neat prod past Laidlaw to be ruled out questionably for offside, Barrie McKay and Dougie Imrie would be denied within seconds of each other after the restart, while McKay's endeavour to get through on goal late on went unrewarded as his dithering allowed the Raith defence to recover. It was the creative edge many feared would never arrive.

"I gambled on the defender making a mistake," said Robertson of his shot. "I got the ball under control and I've actually tried to put it in the other corner. In hindsight I should have just put it in the other one because I thought the goalie would have dived quicker, but unfortunately he got a good hand to it. It would have been great if we had got that early goal.

"We will get there when a few of us get a wee bit fitter, and when big Gaz gets a wee bit fitter as well. I think he made a massive difference from last week. We are learning how to play with each other and listening to how the gaffer wants to play. I think that's the most positive thing from Saturday and we probably deserved to win."

Despite chatter pre-match generally revolving around how Kenny Shiels' team would shape up, whispers regarding the shape of one member of the side in particular took over on Saturday. Former Hibernian forward O'Connor was given his debut for Morton after being brought in from the Russian cold to the intense heat of a relegation rescue mission in his first competitive action for over a year.

His less than svelte figure triggered a few raised eyebrows as he toddled out of the tunnel, yet his influence was equally weighty in giving Morton their first point in over two months - bringing the Greenock side to within eight points of ninth-placed Cowdenbeath. As well as nipping in for his offside goal, O'Connor's deft touches were a class above pretty much everything else that went on around him, as he continuously dropped deep to create space to play a series of through balls beyond the Raith backline.

"I'm pretty tired," said O'Connor, after completing the 90 minutes. "It was expected that I'd try and play the whole game. The more minutes I play the fitter I'll get. I've been playing reserve games and I'll do that again this week, it's just good to be back in the game. I've been out for a year and a bit, but I'm not that far away."

O'Connor was not the only one with a point to prove on Saturday, with another former Hibs player attempting to resurrect his career. Fraser Mullen made his debut for the Kirkcaldy club on Saturday just 24 hours after terminating a contract at Easter Road. The right-back, who began his career with Hearts, had not played a first-team game since being subbed off against Dundee United on August 17. It turned out to be a competent debut for the 20-year-old, with his cross after 42 minutes providing Raith's best chance, only for Calum Elliot's point-blank diving header to somehow be saved by Nicolas Caraux. Mullen is keen to get his career back on track following his footballing exile.

"I've not had a proper first-team game in months so I began to tire towards the end, but it feels good to be back," he said, his new side still in fourth place. "It's been a frustrating few months now I've had a taste of first-team football. You never know what's going to happen when a new manager [Terry Butcher] comes in. There's certain players he likes and there are certain players who don't fit the bill. I'm just grateful I've been given my chance at Raith Rovers."

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