Feature: Season Preview – Greenock Morton

By Lewis Michie

There are quite a few cliques you can apply to most Championship teams, one is that you truly cannot predict where anyone will finish in the table come May, and the other is that half of the league pretty much recruit a whole new squad each summer – Greenock Morton have pretty much done that this off-season, and it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll finish – one certainty however, is that returning gaffer David Hopkin is quite likely the biggest and best signing the club will make.

We are previewing how the season will go for the Ton, with the help of Morton supporter Andrew Barnsley (@AndrewBarnsley5 on Twitter)

Andrew paints quite the picture of how painful supporting Morton can be, he said:

Supporting Morton is like being on a rollercoaster that never ends from ray McKinnon walking out 3 months in to a season to bottom of the table Falkirk without actually telling the board to then the people up top physically telling Jonatan Johansson he can’t play someone 3 hours before the final game of the season because it would trigger an appearance clause and give the option of another year on the players contract which then lead to jj walking out on the spot .”

2018/19 season began with such positivity with the club announcing a 3 year plan to get in to the premiership and giving ray McKinnon a bigger budget to work with and the man brought in a full squad of his own choice and a good one at that with Morton veterans Jim McAlister and Chris Millar coming back to the midfield . Ray mixed youth with experience well with the signings of Charlie Telfer and  Reghan Tumilty along with resigning key players from the year before like Michael Tidser and jack Iredale . With optimism and a strong squad came good results and we were top of the league at one point before what seemed like a car crash of a season to follow . Ray left training one day and later on he was the new Falkirk manager which came as a surprise to the supporters as they sat bottom of the league .”

Andrew does admit however, that despite plenty negatives, there is a good to be optimistic about, saying:

The board then stated they are making budget cuts and the 3 year plan was gone also the  new manager would need to operate on a small budget which seemed to just kill the little good optimism we had but in step David Hopkin a Morton legend , player and part share owner of the club who guided livi to the top flight on a small budget . The place is on a high again after such a horrible season and optimism is back . Also a new Morton club together fan project has arisen which aims to get a 15% percent stake by getting around 1600 Morton fans pledging minimum £10 which would get the 400,000 we want . As a new season approaches in the near future I speak for most the fans in saying play offs and a good cup run has to be on the cards”

The back-line is likely to be quite different – as will most of the team – this season, but in the last campaign it was the sixth best – or fourth worst if you’re a glass half empty type of person – in the Championship, while only Dunfermline Athletic scored less goals than the Ton. Obviously everything is changing at Cappielow, so these stats don’t suggest too much for this season’s team, but while the club would have loved to retain some of its defensive assets, other than Michael Tidser, we aren’t sure many supporters will be sad to see an overhaul in attack.

The likes of midfielders Chris Millar, Jim McAlister and Reece Lyon have stayed, as has last season’s top goal scorer Bob McHugh – so somewhat of a core is there. The full-back positions are also covered, with Tumilty at the right side and Lewis Strapp competing with Rory McKeown on the left.

Andrew admits the whole squad needs additions, but the attacking line is the one that could be the most difficult to recruit in, saying:

We unfortunately do not score many goals so a key position is striker and it needs to be right first time as we don’t have budget for error. You could say every position is key as we only have a handful of players signed up”

Additions have begun with the likes of Nicky Cadden, Aidan Nesbitt, Robbie Muirhead, Cameron Salkeld, Sam Ramsbottom, Kalvin Orsi and Kyle Jacobs all joining Hopkin’s side.

Ramsbottom is a 23 year old goalkeeper and joins from English non-league side Alfreton Town – the keeper has only had 12 professional appearances so far in his career, so it appears Hopkins is hoping he will have found a diamond in the rough. Cameron Salkeld is a similar story, also coming from English non-league with Gateshead, the 20 year old winger has two goals and two assists in 31 games in his career. Kalvin Orsi is another hopeful one to an extent. The former Aberdeen youth player has been with Brechin as a winger and he has managed four goals and nine assists in 79 games, the majority at League One – so it’s understandable that Morton supporters are not sure on this signing.

Left winger Nicky Cadden was of course with Hopkin at Livingston, he picked up two assists in the Premiership last term, the 22 year old also had a goal and two assists in Livi’s promotion season – so he needs to add more end product, but Hopkin clearly rates him.

Kyle Jacobs was a player that supporters at Queen of the South would have liked to retain for the most part, so the midfielders has been well received – and while Aidan Nesbitt has had a difficult couple of seasons, he has enjoyed success at Championship level previously and with the list of former clubs that he has, clearly has some talent.

Finally, it’s openly admitted by Morton supporters that they need a striker to come in and add to the goals of McHugh. Robbie Muirhead also has a decent list of former clubs – Kilmarnock, Dundee United and Hearts among them, but his last club Dunfermline didn’t seem particularly upset to see him go –  the 25 year old has only found the net five times over the previous two campaigns.

Again, one more striker might be required, Andrew said:

Striker bob McHugh grabbed at the chance he said to continue with Morton but I feel we need a more pacey striker who’s known to score in this league .”

As you’d think many clubs at Championship level would – Kris Doolan is a player that could be of interest, he certainly knows where the net is, although that isn’t likely a source of pace.

Defensive reinforcements will also be needed, but again with Morton’s smaller budget it’s difficult to get the quality – the loan market could be a key player for this.

With so many clubs at Premiership level pulling out of the reserve league, and as a result potentially loaning out more players than they previously have, it would not be surprising whatsoever to see Morton experimenting with trying to bring a few loans in.

Of course this is always a risk, some players end up out of their depth as they’re unproven, they aren’t long term solutions either, but financially these deals are a lot easier on the bank account with parent clubs often paying wages and clubs can end up with players of a quality they’d never otherwise manage to bring in.

Morton have brought Celtic and Rangers players in on loan previously – the geographical factors certainly play into this one. So it wouldn’t be the worst idea to test the waters with both.

Andrew Dallas came in for the second half of last season and failed to score, but at 19 the summer could have made a real difference. Lewis Mayo could be a player to look into for the back-line if raiding the Ibrox academy.

Over at Celtic Park Robbie Deas or Stephen Welsh – both 19 – could add some solidity to the centre back position as well.

What will the overall aim be? Well like most Championship clubs, it’s pretty much going to be the play-offs, the higher position the better, but Ton fans would likely be chuffed with a fourth place finish, even if it doesn’t result in promotion, it’s a step forward. It’s unlikely Morton are one of the clubs who could win the entire league, but that fourth spot always seems achievable to really any of the ten sides.

At the moment the business Morton have done doesn’t inspire you to feel they’d be favourites to secure a play-off spot, but as we keep saying, the Championship can throw surprise after surprise at you. One of two things – or a mix of both – need to happen this season if Morton are to achieve fourth place or higher.

Firstly, David Hopkins is a coach who after his exploits with Livi convinced many that he has the ability to get more out of a lesser squad and smaller budget than many other coaches can. At present it looks as though he will have to do that this season. Secondly, again similarly to Livi, quite a few players will need to prove people wrong at Cappielow this campaign. Livi weren’t fancied to go up two seasons ago, and since then many players have proven it wasn’t a fluke, they simply were better than many had tipped those individuals to be. Ton fans will be hopeful the likes of Muirhead and Nesbitt can show themselves to be a step above what many opposition supporters – and infact Morton fans themselves – feel they are.

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