Livi squandered a 1-0 half-time lead for the second time in a week to lose 2-1 and allow the chasing pack to close the gap at the top of League One.
After last week’s unwanted Christmas present at the hands of Queen’s Park, Livi looked to get back to winning ways by wrapping up three precious points against East Fife at Bayview. But defeat leaves the West Lothian side only seven points clear of second placed Airdrie, with The Diamonds having a game in hand.
It was as windy as the previous occasion that the sides met in Methil earlier in the season, on a day that Livi lost 3-1 in a gale. The blustery breeze, howling around the ground today, made for almost impossible playing conditions with players from both sides unable to string passes together or complete meaningful passages of play. Consequently, it was a match full of comical mishits, ricochets and mistimed jumps for headers.
The Lions made one change from last week’s defeat, with Nicky Cadden missing out. He was replaced by Danny Mullen, in a starting eleven that contained three recognised strikers. Livi, in their pale blue away kit to avoid clashing with East Fife’s traditions amber and black colours, started the better of the two sides.
The Lions, with the wind being on their side in the first half, looked to get the ball forward at every opportunity without creating many clear cut chances. The game was shaping up to be a very similar encounter to the first game of the season between the two sides, with little quality football on show and the wind having an adverse effect on decision making.
The first chance fell to right back Craig Halkett, as he brought down a cross by full back counterpart Jackson Longridge, however the touch let down The Lions’ number 26 and the opportunity was lost. Looking dangerous from the right hand side, Buchanan ran into the channel to win Livi a corner, but it came to nothing after a poor ball in from De Vita.
East Fife weren’t in the game at this point, and were still level due to some good defending. Lithgow’s long throw found Sean Crighton who won two aerial battles in a row only to find both headed away by the East Fife defence. The ball then fell to Danny Mullen who tried to repeat his spectacular overhead kick at Airdrie but it was fantastically saved by East Fife keeper Mark Hurst. Mullen was ruled to have pushed his man, correctly by the referee, but Hurst didn’t know that and reacted very well.
Minutes later, Liam Buchanan found himself clear through on goal after a long ball cleared the East Fife defence. He kept his composure and calmly slotted the ball past the on-rushing Hurst to claim his 20th goal of 2016, making him the joint 2nd top scorer in all four leagues in Scotland for the year, and put his side deservedly in the lead. The hosts had their first meaningful chance of the game a few minutes later. The danger seemed to have passed, but left back Jackson Longridge’s mistimed header fell to midfielder Scott Robinson.
The East Fife number 14’s effort was goal bound but was blocked very well by Lions’ skipper Sean Crighton. Two bookings then came in quick succession, one for East Fife’s Kyle Wilkie after a late challenge on Dale Carrick, and a yellow too for Danny Mullen, after he stupidly hacked down an East Fife player in the middle of the park as they were about to break. Livi were dominating the game and, going in at half time, should probably have been further in front. Several free kicks and numerous corners came to nothing. Like last week, The Lions reached the interval 1-0 up after a strong, if unspectacular, first half performance.
HT: East Fife 0-1 Livingston
East Fife made a change at the interval, with Marc Lamont replacing the injured ex-Lion Kyle Wilkie. Livi continued to have more of the ball, and looked like they’d be next to score. Firstly, Sean Crighton found himself on the left wing but his effort was ambitious to say the least and came to nothing. Secondly, De Vita took yet another poor set piece, however Dale Carrick was lurking on the edge of the area. He teed himself up for the volley but the striker couldn’t hit the target.
Again more corners were wasted and Livi didn’t really test Hurst, while Kelly in the Lions’ goal had yet to be seriously troubled. However, that would change shortly as the game was about to spark into life. Jamie Insall, a man that cause all sorts of problems when the sides met at Bayview first time around, replaced Austin for the hosts, whilst Josh Mullin came on for Dale Carrick for the visitors.
The Lions looked to extend their lead and ultimately kill the game, but this back-fired as the home side counter-attacked and used the wind to their advantage. Livi, struggling with the windy conditions, looked all over the place defensively. With several players out of position, East Fife drove forward and Scott Robinson was given time and space to fire a fierce effort from 25 yards straight at Liam Kelly. The keeper, who will argue that the ball was swerving in the wind, could only palm the ball into the feet of substitute Jamie Insall who easily tapped home from 6 yards.
The Lions number 1 will be disappointed, but will quite rightly want to know why Robinson was allowed so much freedom to hit his shot in the first place. Straight after kick off, Raffaele De Vita nearly put the visitors straight back in front with a terrific effort, sailing just wide of Hurst’s right hand post. Livi still looked like they could win the game and, over-committing perhaps, sent several bodies forward for a Lithgow long throw.
But they fell victim to the counter-attack again. Robinson found himself one-on-one with Liam Kelly about 30 yards out as the Livi keeper came rushing out to compete for a 50-50 challenge. Kelly got to the ball first but his clearance hit off Robinson and the ball flew back towards the Livi net, hitting the post and running along the goal line. Despite Halkett’s best efforts, it was ruled to have crossed the line by the stand-side assistant to give the hosts a 2-1 lead.
It was a dramatic and unexpected turnaround by East Fife, with two goals in only three minutes, punishing a Livi side that just couldn’t find that all-important second strike when leading. Liam Kelly wasn’t having his greatest day in a Livi shirt and the young keeper will want to forget the second half in particular. He dropped a free kick that was hit straight into his hands, fumbling the ball for a corner when it seemed straightforward to catch it.
Shortly afterwards, he was judged to have handled the ball outside of his area, picking up a booking in the process. However, he did make an incredible acrobatic save with only minutes remaining, as Lamont’s free kick looked destined for the top corner. It was an excellent save by the on-loan Rangers goalkeeper, showing what he can do, despite his earlier errors.
The game finished with a whimper from the league leaders, dropping another valuable three points in their quest for promotion. The Lions squandered another 1-0 half-time lead, sending their unhappy fans away with hopes that 2017 will start off better than 2016 ended.
FT: East Fife 2-1 Livingston
East Fife: Hurst, Slattery, Kane, Page, Kerr, Brown, Wilkie (Lamont 45), Robinson, Penrice, Austin (Insall 63), O’Hara
Subs not used: Trialist, Mutch
Goals: Insall (74), Robinson (77)
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Longridge, Lithgow, Halkett, Byrne, De Vita, Pittman, Mullen*, Buchanan, Carrick (Mullin 66)
Subs not used: Maley, Knox, Neill, Ogilvie, Currie, Sinclair
Goals: Buchanan (14)
Referee: Gavin Duncan
Match report: Calum Brown