Morton 1 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers manager Ray McKinnon dedicated last night’s victory over Morton to the club’s popular media officer, and lifelong fan, Ally Gourlay.
Rovers came from behind to snatch three points from Cappielow with a last minute penalty, and an emotional McKinnon revealed afterwards that his players were inspired by Gourlay, who was forced to miss his first game of the season after suffering a setback in his continuing fight against terminal cancer.
“He cannot be here but he’s watching on the telly, and I just want to say that the victory was for Ally Gourlay,” said the Raith boss.
“He’s struggling right now but the way he faces the challenges he has in life is different class.
“I said to the guys before the game to go out and win for Ally, and all I said after the game was, ‘you’ve made one man absolutely proud and delighted tonight’.”
Considering the club’s injury list, and the woeful first half display, which the manager branded as the worst of his tenure, the victory in Greenock has to go down as Raith’s best three points of the season so far.
An away win seemed implausible at half-time given how poor Rovers performance had been.
A Morton side unbeaten in seven league games were leading 1-0 through Alex Samuel, having bossed the Fifers in every area of the park.
But fired-up by a half-time scolding from the manager, Rovers were a different side after the break, and after Ross Callachan levelled affairs inside three minutes, James Craigen’s late penalty sealed a terrific three points.
“The first half was probably the worst we’ve ever played in my time,” McKinnon added.
“But I’m going to give the boys a lot of credit, because for being so bad in the first half, to come out and be 100 times better in the second half, and go on to win the game, shows a lot of character.
“We had some harsh words at half-time. A lot of them had to hear that they were miles off the pace - stepping out of tackles and basically just getting run over the top of.
“They had an option to come out and play, or come off the park, and we got the response we wanted.”
McKinnon revealed that his entire back four went into the game carrying injuries, with Lewis Toshney lasting only 35 minutes before being replaced by David Bates, who once again impressed as a stand-in right back.
“Tosh had a hamstring problem, Davo had a broken nose and couldn’t header the ball properly, Benedictus has had a scan on his knee, and Rory’s ankle has been swollen for a week,” McKinnon explained.
“They’ve all come out and played so I’m absolutely delighted that they’ve got the three points.
“We had 11 missing in training on Tuesday but I knew whoever played tonight would give us everything.
“They were absolutely miles off it in the first half but they really dug in, worked hard and took the game to them in the second half.
“We were maybe thinking that it was going to be a good point here, but to go and win it at the end is an added bonus for Christmas.”
Morton started the match in confident manner following their 2-2 draw at Ibrox, and with pressure building on the Raith defence, it came as no surprise when the hosts took a 23rd minute lead.
A dozing Raith midfield was caught behind play as Ross Forbes forced Kevin Cuthbert into a decent save with an 18-yard drive, but Alex Samuel was first to latch onto the loose ball to fire into the net past two Raith defenders on the line.
Rovers were incredibly fortunate to reach half-time without further damage as Morton continued to dominate, and only some desperate defending kept the ball out the Raith net from a 34th minute corner kick.
Joe McKee’s delivery was met powerfully by Thomas O’Ware and although Cuthbert saved with his shoulder, Raith failed to clear their lines and the ‘keeper was required to make another key block before Davidson’s vital goalmouth challenge denied Luca Gasparatto a tap-in.
McKinnon’s frustration with his team’s first half showing was evident when he launched a water bottle onto the park in disgust after Craigen sent a lazy pass straight out of play.
Raith started the second half like a team who had just been given a half-time rollicking - much more alert, quicker to second balls, and more determined to push forward.
There was also a tactical change, from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, and this renewed, attacking approach paid dividends within three minutes as Rovers grabbed their first equalising goal of the season.
Mark Stewart showed good determination to shrug aside Connor Pepper before teeing up Ross Callachan, whose 18-yard shot took a wicked deflection off Lee Kilday to completely deceive goalkeeper Grant Adam.
Raith maintained the performance levels for most of the second half with Callachan and Craigen proving much more influential in a more central position, than they had in wide areas before the break.
The introduction of Mitch Megginson from the bench was to prove the crucial move on McKinnon’s part as the substitute drove into the Morton box in the 90th minute before tripping over the out-stretched leg of Mark Russell.
After a brief hesitation, ref John McKendrick pointed to the spot, and Craigen stepped up to coolly slot his spot kick into the corner of the net to send the small band of 20 or so travelling fans into raptures.
The victory ended Raith’s run of seven league games without a win, and saw them leapfrog play-off rivals Morton into fourth place in the Championship, ensuring a happy Christmas for all at Stark’s Park.
Morton: Adam, Pepper, Kilday, Gasparotto, Russell, Forbes, O’Ware, McKee (Miller 75), Barr (Quitongo 86), Johnstone, Samuel (McCluskey 83). Unused Subs: Lamie, Scullion, Orr, Gaston.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Toshney (Bates 35), Davidson, Benedictus, McKeown, Callachan, McCord (Matthew 68), Robertson, Craigen, Stewart (Megginson 79), Daly. Unused Subs: Petrie, Wighton, Ellis, Law.
Referee: J McKendrick