Livi collected three more valuable points and chalked up another three goals as they moved back to the top of League One with a thoroughly deserved victory over promotion rivals Brechin City at Glebe Park.
Despite a goalless first half, the result never looked to be in any doubt as The Lions pounded the hosts’ defences, hitting the target with 7 of their 15 attempts on goal over the course of the 90 minutes. They restricted the home side to a single shot, which went wide, leaving Liam Kelly untroubled all afternoon.
The opening exchanges were played out in cagey fashion, with both sides sensing the importance of the fixture in the context of the season. The visitors, playing up the slope, had the first chance after only 7 minutes when Rafa Da Vita’s right effort shot flew over Smith’s crossbar, missing the top left hand corner by a yard.
The home side played a physical game throughout, picking up three cautions in the process, and were fortunate not to receive more yellow cards. Liam Buchanan was next to try his luck, firing in a shot from 35 yards but it sailed wide. Livi’s top scorer wasn’t shy to try again and, in the 15th minute, struck a right footed attempt at goal but it missed the target to the left of goal.
On the half hour mark, Buchanan’s third effort of the afternoon was saved by the outstretched foot of goalkeeper Smith, who was beginning to frustrate the visiting team single-handedly. His strike partner, Danny Mullen, was keen to make sure that he wasn’t left out and had an excellent chance in the 36th minute but once again Brechin’s goalkeeper was there to stop The Lions from taking the lead.
Livi had opted for three centre backs again, with Miller and Longridge playing as wing backs. Scott Pittman, dominating midfield, was at the heart of much of Livi’s play and dominated possession for the entire match. However, despite a succession of chances and controlling the game, the first half ended goalless and the traveling supporters were hoping that their heroes wouldn’t regret those missed opportunities.
Brechin City 0-0 Livingston
However, they needn’t have worried. The second half proved to be even more comfortable for Livi. A half-time change of personnel and formation would prove to be crucial. Mikey Miller was replaced by Shaun Byrne and The Lions switched to a flat back four of Halkett, Crighton, Lithgow and Longridge.
Shortly after the interval, Pittman’s low shot from the edge of the penalty area was brilliantly saved by the impressive Smith at full stretch with his fingertips. Livi looked dangerous in possession and excellent link up play between Mullen and Cadden resulted in the winger’s shot flying wide of the post.
Cadden tried to break the deadlock once again and, in the 60th minute, he bent a left footed shot from the edge of box that Smith could only parry and Mullen was unlucky to lose out on the rebound by a desperate last ditched tackle from a defender. With the pressure mounting on the home defence, Livi won a corner and Lithgow’s header thundered off the bar and the danger was cleared.
After 65 minutes, Nicky Cadden was replaced by Liam Watt and, 60 seconds later, Livi took a deserved lead in curious fashion. Craig Halkett’s long throw from the right hand side fell to Buchanan only 10 yards out with his back to goal. He was able to turn and shoot, but his scuffed effort passed through a defender’s legs and wrong-footed Smith in the Brechin goal to find its way into the net.
Having finally breached the home side’s defences, Livi looked to put the result beyond doubt and the Glebe Park men appeared deflated. Only 3 minutes after breaking the deadlock, The Lions doubled their advantage. Excellent interplay between Buchanan and Longridge found the full back free in the penalty area and he fired his shot low underneath Smith to give Livi a 2-0 lead.
The visitors appeared to relax and the efforts kept on coming. With only 15 minutes left to play, Danny Mullen’s wonderful turn set himself up for a left foot volley but it flew over the bar and into the home fans behind the goal.
As the game entered its closing stages, Livi went in search of a third goal and it came in the 86th minute as the home side tired under the relentless pressure from their full time opponents. A clever pass from Jackson Longridge found substitute Dale Carrick on the left wing. His driven cross-shot could only be pushed out by keeper Smith to the waiting Shaun Byrne, who had the relatively simple task of side-footing the ball into the empty net to give Livi a 3-0 lead.
There was time for more excitement within 60 seconds, when Da Vita’s shot from 10 yards was tipped round the post by Smith. The Italian, struggling with cramp in the final minutes, showed signs of his undoubted talent but was unlucky to find the home goalkeeper in such fantastic form.
So, Livi move back to the summit of League One and look to have strength in depth. But that squad will be stretched to its fullest in the coming days, with Tuesday’s replay of the Irn Bru Cup game against Crusaders in Belfast being quickly followed by next Saturday’s home game against East Fife.
Brechin City: G.Smith, Ford (Caldwell 71), Dyer, E.Smith, Hill, McCormack, Trouten, Dale, Jackson, Spence, Love
Subs not used: Graham, Rodgers, Lynas, Fusco, Dods, O’Neil
Goals:Buchanan (66), Longridge (69), Byrne (86)
Livingston: Kelly, Miller (Byrne 45), Lithgow, Crighton, Halkett, Longridge, Cadden (Watt 65), Pittman, Buchanan (Carrick 80), De Vita, Mullen
Subs not used: Maley, Sinclair, Mullin, Neill
Referee: Bobby Madden
Match Report:Calum Brown