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Morton develop a healthier outlook after shot in the arm

THE immediate impact of the strike may not have been deeply felt at the time, but its significance may yet resonate throughout the rest of Morton's campaign.

Declan Gallagher turns to celebrate after putting Dundee further ahead at Cappielow
Declan Gallagher turns to celebrate after putting Dundee further ahead at Cappielow

Fifty-nine bleak minutes had elapsed when Dougie Imrie, fuelled by fear and frustration, swung his left boot ferociously to send the ball rocketing beyond Kyle Letheren, the Dundee goalkeeper, and give the Cappielow club a way back into a match which, much like their season, looked beyond them.

Make no mistake, Morton were staring down the barrel on Saturday. The SPFL Championship's bottom club were floundering as the league leaders were finding their stride, two cheap goals in the first half from Craig Beattie and Declan Gallagher causing the damage, while ninth-place Cowdenbeath were leading Livingston as they threatened to open up the gap at the foot of the table to five points. However, as much as Imrie's goal was not enough for them to come back against the visitors, the transformation it triggered in Morton was simply extraordinary. Their tempo increased, their passing became crisp, while their movement and purpose became cohesive.

Following an hour devoid of any creativity, a Dundee defence which had only shipped one goal in their previous three matches was cut open almost at will. Imrie again lashed a fierce effort goalward and Nacho Novo also went close.

The influence of David Hopkin, the club's caretaker manager, is finally starting to permeate through a squad which had its confidence brutally battered out of it in recent months with each defeat landing a painful blow to their self-esteem and belief. Hopkin's rapport with the players has been telling in the weeks following the sacking of Allan Moore and Imrie is sure the former Chelsea and Scotland midfielder is the right man to continue the recovery operation at Cappielow.

"At half-time he told us to keep playing the same way, that we had been brilliant," said the midfielder of Hopkin, who has juggled his new role with guiding the Morton reserves to the top of the league and looking after the Under-20 squad.

"That's the way he wants us to play. If he gets the job, brilliant, we're all behind him 100%. We hope he gets it, his training and coaching is fantastic, we all respect and love him, but it's not up to us. We created good chances, the goalkeeper pulled off a great save from my other strike, I don't know how he's managed to get to it."

Imrie needs no reminder of the danger which faces Morton at the moment. The 30-year-old has twice suffered the ignominy of relegation, with Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hamilton Academical, and is in no rush to make it a hat trick this season. "We don't talk about relegation," he added. "It's not a nice thing to go through."

Someone who has shared Imrie's pain in the past is Gallagher, however avoiding the drop is the furthest thing from the Dundee defender's mind this season. The Dens Park club were jettisoned from the top flight last season following an impromptu and disastrous appearance in the division. It is clear, though, that they are much more fit for purpose this time around as they attempt to go back up immediately. The win on Saturday has taken them top of the Championship, albeit on goal difference.

"The boys were hurting when we got relegated last season, but you just have to get on with it," said Gallagher. "A lot of people had a lot of doubts about us last season because we went up due to Rangers dropping out, but we want to get promoted again for the right reasons."

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