Greenock Morton 0-0 PARS

DUNFERMLINE were forced to settle for a point in their first match of 2021 after a frustrating stalemate at Greenock Morton this evening.

Stevie Crawford's men, who moved to within four points of table-topping Hearts, were the better side in a hard-fought match but couldn't find the quality moment in the final third to unlock the home rearguard.

Of the chances that were created, the Pars created the best of them, with Lewis McCann coming closest late on with a shot just wide of the post.

Goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams was a virtual specator throughout the 90 minutes, with any balls played into the box by the hosts repelled by the Athletic defence, led by Euan Murray and Paul Watson.

It was a game that Crawford will feel his men could've have won, but they remain four points clear of the 'Ton, who jump into fourth spot, ahead of tomorrow's fixtures.

Dunfermline remain unbeaten on the road in six league games so far this season, but they have only won one of them - at Alloa Athletic in October.

In Athletic's first game for just over two weeks, Crawford made four changes to the side that started their last outing, a 1-1 draw with Inverness, on December 29.

Ryan Dow, Steven Whittaker, Dom Thomas and Declan McManus all returned to the starting line-up, as Lewis Mayo, Kerr McInroy, Kyle Turner and Kevin O'Hara dropping to the bench.

McCann retained his place in the team for just his second league start of the campaign, supporting McManus in attack, while Matty Todd - recalled from a loan spell at Brechin City - was also amongst the substitutes.

Going into this match, Morton were the only side to have beaten the Pars this season - 2-1 at East End last month - and, in eight league meetings between the teams in Inverclyde since Athletic returned to the Championship in 2016, had only lost once.

That came in March 2017, when Nat Wedderburn secured a 1-0 win, but Dunfermline had lost four and drawn three.

On a heavy pitch, and in wet conditions, the opening 45 minutes wasn't a half that will live too long in the memory.

Whilst there was no lack of application or commitment from both sets of players, goalmouth incidents were few and far between.

But, whatever action towards the net there was, it was the visitors that had the better of it.

Luca Colville did had a slight sight of goal in the opening five minutes - slicing high and wide after Fon Williams had cleared a corner - while McManus glanced a header wide moments later from a Josh Edwards cross.

The next effort came from McCann who, from Dow's free-kick from the right hand side, tried to head towards Aidan McAdams' goal but the ball was too far behind him to direct it on target.

Dunfermline continued to probe and, after the home defence couldn't clear Thomas' attempted ball across the six yard box, Ian Wilson couldn't quite get enough purhcase on his shot from 12 yards, which McAdams flopped down onto at his near post.

Wilson, receiving the ball infield from McManus on a Pars break, showed good feet to step away from his man before unleashing an effort from distance, which was deflected over the top.

It was, however, for the most part an attritional affair, with Sean McGinty showing the determination of both clubs not to concede when he was in the right place to make an excellent tackle as McManus attempted to shoot after being played in by Dow.

Markus Fjortoft headed wide at the near post from a long Lewis Strapp throw for the hosts, although Fon Williams was unconcerned, before Thomas threatened again before the break with a cross-cum shot that McAdams punched away for a corner, which came to nothing.

McManus, busy up front, controlled a headed clearance well with his chest 20 yards from goal before letting fly, only for McAdams to save, early in the second half.

Dunfermline continued to be the team most likely to make the breakthrough and, as the match ticked towards the final quarter, they had another good opportunity.

A flighted ball saw McManus run on to it and, although he got a touch to the ball, the outrushing McAdams managed to block at the edge of the area.

Dow picked up and, after taking a touch inside - with substitute Turner looking to run onto it - he passed the ball to Thomas, who did get a shot away, only for Michael Ledger to make an excellent block.

The visitors kept the pressure on and, in the midst of a scramble inside the box, McManus eventually laid the ball off to Watson, who in turn left it for Euan Murray, but his shot was frustratingly blocked as Morton continued to throw bodies on the line.

Turner shot over from range after fellow sub Fraser Murray slipped the ball to him but, with nine minutes left, McCann - who moments later was subbed off for Kevin O'Hara - almost won it.

Twenty yards from goal, to the left of the area, the youngster sent a fine effort that looked goalbound only for it to drop agonisingly wide of the far post.

As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute, Turner bustled his way into space to send a low cross into the box from the right hand side and find McManus, who managed to hit the target but couldn't find the power to beat McAdams.

That proved to be their final chance as they were left to settle for a point.

Morton: McAdams, Ledger, Fjortoft, McGinty, Nesbitt, Orsi (Oliver 59), Salkeld, Strapp, Lyon (Jacobs 82), Colville, Omar (McGuffie 73).

Subs: Jacobs, McAlister, Oliver, McGuffie, Easdale, Hynes, McGrattan.

Pars: Fon Williams, Comrie, Watson, E.Murray, Edwards, Dow, Whittaker, Wilson (Turner 67), Thomas (F.Murray 76), McCann (O'Hara 82), McManus.

Subs: Turner, O'Hara, F.Murray, Mayo, McInroy, Todd, Gill.

Booked: Wilson (60).

Referee: Stephen Kirkland.