Livi ran riot over their closest rivals in the League One top of the table clash at New Broomfield, scoring four goals and claiming a second clean sheet in a week to extend their lead to twelve points.
The visitors made one change from last Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Stranraer, with Nicky Cadden making way for Jackson Longridge. The Lions lined up with three centre-backs, in Lithgow, Gallagher and Halkett, with Longridge and Crighton occupying wing back roles.
There was a sense of anxiety among both sets of supporters before kick-off, recognising the importance of the fixture. That nervousness was visible on the pitch, with the early stages being filled with rushed passes and a series of free-kicks breaking up the play.
The first chance of the game fell to Livi’s Declan Gallagher after only four minutes, but his header flew over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Kieran MacDonald’s effort for the home side was fired wide of Kelly’s post. Danny Mullen was next to try his luck but his header was too high to trouble Ferguson in the Airdrie goal.
As the game began to settle down, it was obvious that Airdrie were looking to get the ball wide, whilst The Lions were comfortable playing through the middle to the regular striker force of Mullen and Buchanan. Declan Gallagher was yellow carded for a late challenge after 18 minutes after he fouled Andy Ryan, but Airdrie failed to make use of the free-kick.
The Diamonds’ top scorer Ryan had an attempt from outside the penalty area but his shot was saved comfortably by Liam Kelly. With twenty five minutes on the clock, Buchanan had a great chance to open the scoring. He bundled his way through the home defence and found himself with only Ferguson to beat, but Airdrie’s number 1 closed down the space and saved at the striker’s feet.
League One top scorer Buchanan had a golden chance immediately after, when former Livi man Simon Mensing got caught in possession. However, the striker’s left footed effort could only find the side netting, a let off for the hosts. Then, with eleven minutes of the half remaining, a moment of outstanding quality gave Livi the lead. Iain Russell made a dangerous challenge on Jackson Longridge and was lucky, perhaps, to avoid a booking for leaving his studs on the left back.
A long ball from the resulting free kick was played to the far right hand side of the pitch and Sean Crighton, from around 25 yards out, hammered a perfectly struck volley beyond Ferguson into the far corner of the net. It was a fabulous strike from the defender and must rank as one of the goals of the season so far.
With half-time approaching, The Lions almost extended their lead. Buchanan won possession on the edge of the area and struck a low shot, which took a deflection to wrong-foot the goalkeeper but the ball fell two feet wide of the opposite post. As the league leaders looked to turn the screw, both Crighton and Millar had efforts in the final minute before the interval but the home side held out to go into the break only one goal behind.
HT Airdrieonians 0 – 1 Livingston
The visiting fans may have expected the home side to start the second period strongly but it was the West Lothian men who started on top. Only three minutes after the restart, Russell received a yellow card for a foul on Shaun Byrne, leaving the midfielder with a sore shin.
Two minutes later, Livi scored their second goal of the afternoon. Excellent passing on the edge of the area allowed Mark Millar to drill a low drive towards the 6-yard box, only for Airdrie’s Joe Gorman to slide the ball into his own net to double the visitors’ advantage. The Lions began to move up through the gears and were winning individual battles all over the pitch.
Turning on the style, relaxed in possession, Livingston began to look like a team at the top of the league. Attempts by Halkett and Buchanan threatened to put The Lions out of the home side’s reach, but Ferguson was doing his best to keep his team in the game. On the hour mark, Gallagher was replaced by Raffaele De Vita. Both Buchanan and Millar saw attempts saved before the league’s leading goalscorer was replaced by Bulgarian Nikolay Todorov, on loan from Hearts.
As the visitors looked to secure the three points, a series of shots peppered The Diamonds’ goal, with Byrne, Mullen and Todorov all having meaningful efforts. With only 12 minutes to play, Livi scored a fantastic goal to extend their lead. Out of nowhere Alan Lithgow, at Livi’s own left hand corner flag, played the ball through the legs of his opponent to get himself out of the danger area. He passed to Todorov, who fired an inch-perfect 35 yard pass to Danny Mullen.
The forward cut inside his marker and curled the ball beyond Ferguson with his left foot into the keeper’s right hand corner to put The Lions 3-0 ahead. Almost immediately, David Hopkin made another substitution, removing the goalscorer Mullen and replacing him with Nicky Cadden. Within 60 seconds of coming on to the pitch, Cadden scored Livi’s fourth. Excellent play by De Vita on the touchline created space for his cross to the winger who fired a header from inside the 6-yard box high beyond Ferguson.
With the game nearing its end, the home side’s frustration spilled over when Ryan Conroy was given a straight red card by referee Finnie for a lunge on Cadden, which saw the Livi player cautioned for his reaction.
It was the most entertaining of afternoons, with the league leaders playing football of the highest quality, especially in the second half. Thoughts now turn to consecutive home games, firstly against Albion Rovers on Tuesday and then against Stenhousemuir next Saturday. A great opportunity to secure more points in the quest for the League One title.
Airdrieonians: Ferguson, McIntosh, Mensing, Gorman (Stewart 66), MacDonald, Conroy, Brown (Thomson 80), Hutton, Russell, Ryan, McKay
Subs not used: Cairns, McLaughlin, Leighton, Kerr
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Halkett, Gallagher (De Vita 61), Lithgow, Longridge, Pittman, Millar, Byrne, Buchanan (Todorov 74), Mullen (Cadden 80)
Subs not used Mullin, Knox, Sinclair, Maley
Goals: Crighton (34), Gorman OG (50), Mullen (78), Cadden (81)
Referee: Stephen Finnie
Match report: Calum Brown