MORTON recorded a convincing victory over SPL side Kilmarnock at Cappielow last night in their penultimate pre-season fixture.
A Rugby Park outfit including first-team regulars Garry Hay, James Fowler, Liam Kelly, James Dayton and Rory McKeown were outclassed by a new-look Ton team which played sparkling football in spells.
David O'Brien and Mark McLaughlin netted in the first half to assert the hosts' dominance before Peter Weatherson and Jordan Halsman doubled their advantage in the second half.
Killie substitute Matthew Kennedy headed home a late consolation to give the scoreline a slightly more respectable look.
However, the reality was that 4-1 flattered Kenny Shiels' young side, who had former Wales Under-21 goalkeeper Kyle Letheren to thank for keeping the score down to four.
As he suggested in yesterday's Tele, Allan Moore went with a 4-5-1, with widemen O'Brien and Tony Wallace tasked with getting up in support when their team had the ball to turn the formation into a 4-3-3.
There were starting places for latest signings Martin Hardie, Scott Taggart and Craig Reid, who took up a centre-back berth with trialist Kevin Rutkiewicz ruling himself unfit to play.
Meanwhile, in a dramatic, late twist, trialist Michael Bakare - a 25-year-old English striker most recently on the books of Macclesfield Town - was replaced in the starting line-up by Weatherson after it was discovered that he did not have the proper clearance to play.
The change did Morton no harm whatsoever, however, as Weatherson proved well suited to the lone striker role and led the line impressively.
The 32-year-old bullied Killie's teenage centre-half pairing of Ross Fisher and Lee Ashcroft throughout, beginning in the 10th minute when he held off his marker to flick on a Derek Gaston kick-out.
Wallace anticipated the move and was quick off the mark, racing in behind and onto Weatherson's deft touch. But Letheren darted off his line to make the first of many blocks.
The Kilmarnock keeper was beaten in the 13th minute, though, when Wallace fired a raking diagonal cross-field pass out to Weatherson, who cushioned the ball back inside into O'Brien's path.
The winger, who, like Wallace, was proving adept at breaking forward to support the attack, saw his partially blocked shot deceive Letheren and roll past him into the net.
Hardie appeared particularly keen to get his name on the score sheet and wasn't shy when it came to having a go from outside the box.
After a couple of sighters, he let fly from 30 yards with a stunning volley which whistled narrowly over the top. At this stage, a casual observer could have been forgiven for thinking Morton were the Premier League side, such was their dominance and comfort at the back.
It took until the 19th minute for Kilmarnock to manage a shot on target - a weak effort from distance by Gary Fisher which Gaston gathered with ease. Another feature of Ton's play was the willingness of right full-back Taggart to bomb forward and support the attack.
His ability to get into advanced positions was matched by his crossing ability, and his enticing runs were causing Kilmarnock severe headaches.
Weatherson, in particular was thriving on the quality of the delivery and peeled off his marker to glance a header towards the bottom left-hand corner. Letheran was equal to the effort, however, and plunged to his right to parry.
This avenue of attack indirectly bore fruit in the 30th minute when Taggart surged to the bye-line and fired over a low cross which Aschroft sliced behind for a corner.
Michael Tidser whipped the resultant flag kick into a dangerous area and found Weatherson, who instinctively nodded towards goal after slipping his marker inside the box.
Letheren saved but could only push out into the goalmouth, where Mark McLaughlin was handily placed eight yards out. The defender demonstrated instincts any frontman would be proud of as he swivelled and rifled the ball high into the net to make it 2-0.
While Letheren was receiving well-deserved plaudits for an impressive goalkeeping display, Gaston was a virtual spectator at the other end.
That was until two minutes before half-time when Northern Ireland Under-21 left-back McKeown burst into the box and lashed a shot towards goal.
Gaston demonstrated lightning reactions to flick out a hand and flip the ball around his left-hand post to preserve his clean sheet. Nevertheless, normal service was resumed early in the second half. A crisp, one-touch passing move ended with Stephen Stirling threading the ball through a gap in the Kilmarnock defence for Taggart.
The flying full-back darted in behind and drilled a low cross to the near post, where Wallace hooked a first-time effort towards goal only to see it clawed to safety by that man Letheren.
Wallace was becoming increasingly influential, and won a penalty with a mazy dribble which took him past three men before he was felled by a clumsy tackle a yard inside the box.
Weatherson assumed responsibility. Although he elected not to emulate the Panenka penalty scored against Rapid Bucharest, he did choose to go down the middle again.
And he was ultimately successful as the ball finished in the roof of the net despite Letheren's best attempts to flick over the top with an oustretched boot after diving to his right.
Kilmarnock's beleaguered defence may have thought they would be given a break when Archie Campbell replaced Weatherson five minutes later.
But the pacey striker offered a new set of problems which they struggled to cope with, including slipping fellow sub Halsman in for the fourth goal, which looped into the net after deflecting up off Letheren.
Campbell and trialist Kyle Wilkie forced further saves, while Tidser saw a stunning, dipping volley crash back off the crossbar as Ton relentlessly sought out a fifth in the final 15 minutes.
Yet despite posing little threat over the course of the match, the visitors grabbed a late consolation when Kennedy headed home a Rory McKenzie cross in the 90th minute.
However, the goal was merely a small blemish on an otherwise impressive and encouraging Ton performance.
MORTON: (4-5-1/4-3-3): Gaston (6); Taggart (8), Reid (7) (O'Ware 67, 5), McLaughlin (7) (Naismith 64, 5), Dyer (7); Wallace (8), Stirling (8), Hardie (7) (Wilkie 59, 4), Tidser (8), O'Brien (7) (Halsman 46, 6); Weatherson (8) (Campbell 72, 7).
Subs not used: Flack (gk).
Referee: Steven McLean Attendance: 636 Ton's Star Man: Scott Taggart.