Airdrie United 0 Morton 4
Published: 11 Feb 2013 11:300 comments
But Allan Moore's men emphatically dispelled any notion of a Scottish Cup hangover with the perfect response - a fantastic 4-0 thrashing of bottom of the table Airdrie United on Saturday.
Throughout the week, Moore and his squad made it crystal clear that they had put the Dens Park defeat behind them and would not allow it to impact upon their First Division campaign.
They backed up those words with their actions, returning to league duty with a bang as David O'Brien, Colin McMenamin, Peter MacDonald and Kyle Wilkie all scored to spread the goals around.
The performance was as impressive as the scoreline suggests and fired out a message to Ton's title rivals that they have the character required to claim the championship.
The cherry on the icing on the cake for the Cappielow side came in the fact that they extended their lead at the summit to eight points after Partick Thistle's match at Raith Rovers was postponed.
Thistle come to Greenock for next week's huge top-of-the-table clash, and if Ton can win that one and stretch their advantage to 11 points then the Scottish Cup loss will truly be a distant memory.
Ton went about erasing it straight from kick-off on Saturday. They started like an express train and could well have been four goals ahead before they eventually took the lead.
With just 15 SECONDS gone, Michael Tidser flashed a swerving strike narrowly wide of Kenny Arthur's right-hand post from 20 yards as Ton made their intentions clear. The playmaker, who wore the captain's armband again with Mark McLaughlin out, then slipped O'Brien in with a slide-rule pass, but the winger's angled drive was pushed clear by Arthur.
O'Brien has been off the boil in the last month or so. However, he was flying at New Broomfield, particularly in the first half, and his energy and drive was terrorising the hosts.
On four minutes he burst onto Scott Taggart's low cross from the right and sent a side-footed shot just past the upright. Morton were unrelenting, the pressure they were piling on relentless - and the Diamonds were creaking under the strain.
Like O'Brien, Tidser was playing with a swagger and seemed to be revelling in the opportunity to strut his stuff on Airdrie's astroturf.
He was taking command of all Ton's set-pieces and threatening to do damage each and every time. On seven minutes he caught out the home defence with a quick free-kick down the line to Taggart.
The flying full-back floated over a cross which Thomas O'Ware, who was handed his first start of the season with McLaughlin and Craig Reid both out injured, powered towards goal.
His downwards header looked destined for the net until Ricki Lamie popped up with a goal-line clearance.
Tidser then took a different approach, curling another free-kick from an identical position towards the far post where O'Brien had popped up unmarked.
The wideman isn't known for his aerial prowess, however, and failed to hit the target with his header.
The last time Ton visited New Broomfield they controlled the first half but failed to take their chances and were hit with a sucker punch when John Boyle scored to give the hosts a shock lead.
Lightning would have struck twice but for a massive double save from goalkeeper Derek Gaston on 19 minutes.
The Ton number one had to readjust quickly to parry after Sean Lynch's shot from the edge of the box had been redirected right in front of him by Ryan Donnelly. After pushing away the initial effort, he had to look alive again to shoot out his right leg to block Boyle's follow up attempt. Gaston completed a superb 60 seconds by claiming the resultant corner and then instantly sending a colossal kick-out downfield.
This was no aimless punt but a calculated attempt to catch Airdrie out. Left-back Marc Warren failed to deal with clearance, allowing MacDonald to nip in ahead of, and round, the outrushing Arthur. The frontman went round the Airdrie custodian on his left and took an extra touch to steady before sweeping towards the open goal with his weaker foot. That moment of hesitancy afforded Chris O'Neill the split second needed to get back and block on the line.
Airdrie could not hold out forever, though, and finally fell behind on 24 minutes as a result of a piece of quick thinking between Ton's front two.
MacDonald, who has told the Tele how he prefers to play alongside a strike partner, was sparking off McMenamin, and they were on the same wavelength as they worked together to craft the opener.
McMenamin grabbed the ball and took a quick throw-in on the left. The equally alert MacDonald read his intentions and drifted in behind the home defence before cutting the ball back into the danger area.
O'Brien's instincts had drawn him into the centre, arriving right on cue to place a left-footed finish into the bottom-right corner from just beside the penalty spot.
From there on in it was all Morton, but their failure to stretch their lead was almost punished on 38 minutes.
This time Gaston was the sinner, spilling a free-kick from the right - although he may well be justified in feeling he was fouled - which allowed Gregor Buchanan to hook towards goal.
The defender's effort beat Gaston but was crucially blocked on the line by the chest of O'Ware. The home fans screamed for a penalty, and a red card, claiming handball.
Referee Brian Colvin waved away the fierce home protestations, booking Buchanan in the process, and was proved correct by post-match slow motion replays courtesy of the Ton camera team.
Throughout the first period, and much like they had when Dumbarton employed a similar approach at Cappielow back in September, Ton looked to exploit Airdrie's high defensive line. Early long balls over the top for MacDonald and Tidser firing slide-rule passes inside the right full-back for O'Brien were their weapons of choice - the latter the key to the second goal.
Nathan Blockley looked set to spark an Airdrie attack until Fouad Bachirou displayed his uncanny ability to stretch out a leg to hook his foot around the ball and steal possession.
After doing so, the Frenchman fed Tidser, who instinctively dissected O'Neill and Buchanan with a perfectly weighted pass.
O'Brien was onto it in a flash and after sprinting clear he raised his head and squared for McMenamin to side-foot under Arthur. It was McMenamin's first goal for the club on his first start and O'Brien's eighth assist so far this season.
The timing of the goal, coming one minute before half-time, was significant. If it did not put the game out of a particularly dire Airdrie's reach then the third, which came seven minutes after the restart, did.
MacDonald was the scorer, sweeping into the bottom-left corner with the aid of a deflection after he had been picked out by Tidser.
Although Tidser was playing as part of a central midfield two in a 4-4-2, with Martin Hardie on the bench due to the playing surface, he was almost playing as adventurously as he has in the 4-5-1.
For that third, he overlapped down the left and picked out MacDonald hanging back on the edge of the box for his 11th assist of the campaign.
Elsewhere in midfield, Moore handed Wilkie a rare but much merited start on the right of midfield in place of David Graham.
The 21-year-old has been in sparkling form with David Hopkin's reserve side, and he capped an industrious display with a goal on the hour.
Taggart burst clear down the right and feigned to cross before tucking a neat pass inside to Wilkie, who was stood on the edge of the box with cluster of players between him and the goal.
Showing the sort of nimble footwork which has been a hallmark of his displays with the 'Bombsquad', Wilkie waltzed past two Airdrie men on his way into the box.
He rode a challenge which could well have been a penalty if he'd gone down and slotted a left-footed finish past Arthur to make it 4-0. The former Hamilton man later manufactured an excellent opportunity for McMenamin, winning possession on the right before whipping in a low cross which the striker met at the near post.
But home goalkeeper Arthur made a strong block to keep the score down to four. It was Ton's only real chance in the final half hour as they took their foot off the gas.
A frustrated young Diamonds side, on the other hand, lost the plot, and as well as subjecting Bachirou to some rough treatment, were reduced to nine men following two late dismissals.
On 83 minutes, Warren was given a second yellow for a wild kick on Wilkie after the Morton midfielder had nipped in to touch the ball away from him. Then Lamie, who was clearly affected by the away fans' incessant taunts after he unnecessarily shelled a clearance into them early in the second half, was shown a straight red.
Peter Weatherson could see the 19-year-old was teetering on the brink and used his experience to send him over the edge.
Lamie aimed a headbutt at the Ton sub to receive his marching orders and end a miserable day for Jimmy Boyle's side.
For Morton, it was an excellent afternoon's work and set them up nicely for next Saturday's massive Cappielow encounter with Partick Thistle.