HAT-TRICK hero Stefan McCluskey fired Morton to the top of League One for the first time in three months as his treble helped Morton to a 4-0 win over basement boys Stirling Albion last night.

After a night and morning of heavy snow covered the Cappielow playing surface, it seemed unlikely this match would even go ahead, particularly when an early pitch inspection was called for 1.30pm.

Even though it passed that initial examination thanks to some rapidly melting snow and the stellar work of groundsman Mark Farrell, there was still an element of doubt as late as 6.45pm.

However, the match went ahead as scheduled and the fates seemed to conspire to send the Ton two points clear at the league summit.

While long-time leaders Stranraer lost 1-0 away at Stenhousemuir, Jim Duffy’s men recorded a comfortable win against the rock bottom Binos. Eventually.

For the first 25 minutes, you would have been forgiven for believing Stirling were the team flying high in the midst of a seven-game unbeaten run and Morton the team propping up the table.

Ton though could well have taken the lead within the first 60 seconds when Stefan Milojevic met a fabulous Ross Forbes corner with fierce half-volley that just cleared the crossbar.

From then on in, Stuart McLaren’s side took the game by the scruff of the neck, with effervescent wideman Andy Stirling causing all sorts of problems coming in off the left flank.

On four minutes, he slipped a clever pass in behind Milojevic for Gordon Smith, who fastened onto the pass and rifled an angled drive across goal.

Even though the Stirling No9 was given offside, Ton keeper Derek Gaston wasn’t to know and made a fine reaction stop, shooting out a right leg to stab clear.

It was an indication of what was to follow as the in-form custodian waged a one-man war to almost single-handedly keep his team in the match for the next 20 minutes.

Stirling — the player — dazzled the Morton defence with some flashy footwork on eight minutes, but his teasing low cross caught out his own team, with Craig Comrie arriving just too late to the scene.

Gaston then made a jaw-dropping double save on 16 minutes when he plunged to parry Hearts loanee Angus Beith’s stinging strike from the edge of the box. The ball broke free and it seemed a cast-iron certainty that Gordon Smith would simply roll the ball into the empty net as he followed in.

But skipper Gaston had other ideas and, showing lightning reactions, somehow managed to get his considerable frame off the ground and across to his right to parry with an outstretched arm.

He was called into action again less than 60 seconds later, blocking from Phil Johnston with a little help from Sean Crighton, who reacted quickest to put the rebound past the post for a corner.

It was incessant Stirling pressure at this point, and Beith had enough time and space to curl an effort a foot or so over the top at Gaston’s top left corner.

The natives were growing restless as their team struggled to get out of their own half, with one main stand regular telling his team in no uncertain terms that they were lucky not to be 4-0 down.

In the middle of the park, Joe McKee was looking out of sorts after his recent car crash, and Duffy made the call to replace him with Jamie McCluskey on 23 minutes. Stirling continued their assault on the home goal, though, and Gordon Smith produced a piece of brilliance from the Matt Le Tissier playbook.

After setting himself with a keepy up, the Binos No9 unleashed a dipping swerving volley that looked set to sail over Gaston and into the net for a goal of the season contender.

Instead, the custodian produced a breathtaking save to match the initial effort, retreating rapidly before acrobatically arching backwards to flip the ball over the top.

After watching their keeper uphold his end of the bargain, the rest of the Greenock men began to pull their weight.

Sub Jamie McCluskey and Mark Russell both forced smart saves from Stirling shot-stopper Greg Paterson as Ton finally mounted some serious attacking offensive.

In a moment that summed up why the respective sides find themselves exactly where they are in the table, the hosts made the most of their limited openings to take the lead on 35 minutes.

Receiving a pass from Thomas O’Ware following a slick exchange tight to the touchline, Declan McManus span away from his marker in one movement and delivered a sensational low cross. Where Comrie had reacted too late for Stirling early on, Stefan McCluskey gambled and was rewarded when he got on the end of the centre to side-foot home at the far post. Ton had gradually improved as the half progressed, but it would end on a familiar note with Gaston producing more heroics between the sticks to thwart Andy Stirling.

After bursting clear down the inside-right channel, the Binos No10 unleashed an angled drive that Gaston not only did well to claw clear but to also manage to push away from the inrushing Smith.

Morton were much improved in the second half, while a deflated Stirling side seemed to completely run out of steam. The Cappielow club, and Stefan McCluskey in particular, took full advantage.

They doubled their advantage on 62 minutes when the younger McCluskey sibling fed Ross Caldwell and then continued his diagonal run on and around the outside of the powerful striker.

Unselfishly, Caldwell slipped the return into the former Clyde man’s path and he confidently slotted past Paterson inside the right-hand post.

The influential former St Mirren man has now registered four goals and five assists in six starts and two sub appearances since signing in January — an impressive contribution by anyone’s standards.

The key contributor on the night ‘in an attacking sense’ was, of course, Stefan McCluskey and he completed his treble on 79 minutes. There was a touch of fortune about the goal, though, as he drove in off the right flank after receiving a Forbes pass and saw his deflected shot spin slowly past Paterson and into the net.

To put the cherry on the icing on the cake, McCluskey set up McManus for a fourth goal on 82 minutes to keep him one ahead of Caldwell at the top of the club’s assist charts.

After finding McManus with a square pass, Ton’s top scorer did the rest, unleashing a searing rising drive that soared into the roof of the net.

A supporter who had earlier missed the opening goal summed up the game as he made for the exits at full-time: “I went for a pie and came back and somebody had put a different team on the park!”