This summer has been one of change at Cappielow. A new manager, new playing squad, new coaching team, new Chief Executive and even new dugouts. The club feels long removed from the dramatic events on the final day of last season and there’s some cautious optimism that Morton are finally putting the right building blocks in place to eventually get to the Premiership. Like most teams in our league though, it’s difficult to actually predict how Morton will perform at this stage. The Betfred Cup provided a few indicators, but whilst the squad is still incomplete/gelling, it’s tricky to pinpoint where Morton, or anyone else in the Championship for that matter will finish. What we can do though is take a look at some of the key personnel, and what will need to happen if Morton are to improve on last year’s 5th place finish and find themselves back in the playoffs.
If you’re a subscriber to the PureFitbaw podcast (you should be) then you’ll have already heard some gushing over Peter Grant, I’m going to provide some more. A few years ago Grant was one of the standout players in Scotland’s second-tier, tipped to be a future Scotland international by Falkirk fans and quite a few from opposing teams as well. A lengthy injury really took its toll though, and he struggled to get back to the excellent levels of performance he’d been producing before. Injuries continued to plague him during spells with Plymouth and Carlisle, but there is still a very good player in there.
If he can get past the fitness issues, Hopkin is the ideal manager to get him back to the levels of old. His transformation of the likes of Alan Lithgow and Declan Gallagher into solid Premiership defenders is one of his most impressive achievements as a coach, and Grant is (arguably) already a more accomplished defender than Lithgow or Gallagher were when Hopkin began working with them. All of the tools are there, and early League Cup performances from Grant have been encouraging. He’s strong, he’s vocal and he’s composed on the ball as well – something Morton have missed from their central defenders for a while now. If he can stay injury-free, he’ll be a massive player at the back for the club this season. He will obviously still have aspirations of playing in the top flight, so if he can prove his fitness here and become as influential as Hopkin’s Livingston centre backs were, he’ll certainly get there.
At the other end of the pitch, Aidan Nesbitt is set to be a hugely important player this season. He had a successful stint on loan In Greenock under Jim Duffy, where his pace and trickery caused opponents all sorts of bother. The one thing that let him down though was his end product. Supporters of almost every team will have seen it before. A player that can beat men for fun, but after that, it’s a lottery. Spells at MK Dons and Dundee United appear to have helped him out though, and he’s already provided some cool finishes since signing up. Him and Nicky Cadden offer Morton a threat in wide areas that will cause most teams in Scotland problems.
Hopkin-ball might centre around them latching into knockdowns and being played in by the strikers, but they’re both capable of stretching play and provide a really good threat on the counter. We only have the Betfred Cup games to judge, but Morton look threatening on the break and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a high percentage of their goals this season come as a result of it.
In terms of a breakout star this season, you’re looking at Lewis Strapp. Someone that supporters have wanted to see involved for quite a while, and with Jack iredale departing for Carlisle the youngster finally gets his chance. He’s quick, he’s strong, loves a tackle and he’s got a belter of a long throw in him, which is quite handy for a David Hopkin-led side. He’s still a bit raw, but loan spells at Elgin and Annan have assisted in his development, and he’s someone that certainly looks like it’s worth persisting with. Now is the perfect opportunity for the 19 year old to try tie down the left back position and make it his own.
Reece Lyon is another youngster that looks like he’ll be given the opportunity to really kick on this season too. One of the few positives of Jonatan Johansson’s reign of terror was Lyon’s breakthrough – which included an outstanding goal away to Queen of the South. His level of composure on the ball isn’t something you see often in youngsters in the Championship, and it’s a real credit to him he hasn’t looked a single bit out of place in the senior squad. Hopkin’s thankfully kept him in midfield so far, and if he continues to kick on could be the first sellable asset that Morton have developed in a long time. (Scott Tiffoney to Livingston for £4.99 doesn’t count)
I thought somebody was winding me up when I got sent news of John Sutton coming out of retirement. On the face of it, it’s a troubling sign, but…it now looks a bit of a masterstroke. 5 minutes into his first appearance against St Johnstone you could see he still had it. The amount of headers he wins is ridiculous, he’s been doing it his entire career and he’s just really bloody good at it. Not everything is lumped up to him of course, but the vast, vast majority of our attacks hit off of his (very handsome) dome at some point. He hadn’t started a game since 2017 but his fitness levels are remarkable. He’s kept himself in brilliant shape and at the minute, is the most important player in Hopkin’s side. What a time to be alive.
This is a very important season for 9/11 conspiracy enthusiast Robbie Muirhead though. Someone that not too long ago was looked upon as one of the brightest prospects in Scotland. His UEFA Goal of the Season contender perhaps the best illustration of the ability he has in abundance. His agent is rumoured to have gotten in contact with Hopkin directly, with Muirhead feeling he’d be the manager to get his career back on track. The player cited being promised playing time in his actual favoured playing position of striker as one of the biggest reasons for heading to Inverclyde. I don’t think he could’ve ever seen himself behind John Sutton in the pecking order, but here we are. It’s early days though, he’ll be given his chance soon enough and hopefully he’ll be able to take it.
As for he other new arrivals (Kyle Jacobs aside) their ability to perform at this level is pretty unknown at the minute. A lot of faith is being placed in Hopkin and his coaching team to make guys who don’t even have Wikipedia pages competent players at this level. There’s worries about the defence, which was badly exposed in the 4-0 tanking from Motherwell and 3-3 draw with Queen of the South. The Queens game though was more down to the man in the sticks, Sam Ramsbottom. If you’ve ever seen that gif of the wee robot trying to save a penalty but just collapsing, that’s pretty much how things are going so far. Early days though…
Paul the Octopus of 2010 World Cup fame would’ve had a stroke trying to predict the Scottish Championship, so I’m not going to bother. I will say though, I think Morton will be at the very least “okay”. I don’t see the squad slipping into the danger it did last season, but at the minute would require some solid additions to be serious challengers at the top end. Every club and their granny are looking for loan players at the minute too which Hopkin has already said he’s wanting to bring in. For now though, it’d require a small miracle to get Morton anywhere near the Premiership. The man in the dugout knows all about that though. Is John Sutton firing us to a quadruple? That’s not for me to say, but…I’ll see you at Hampden.