Livi were blown away by a combination of East Fife and the elements on a blustery afternoon in Methil.
The first half was as poor a display as the travelling fans have seen from their favourites all season and they found themselves three goals behind at the interval.
The hosts won the toss and chose to take advantage of the strong wind, which was swirling around the three open sides of the stadium, but predominantly howling into The Lions’ faces. The first minute was a taste of things to come. A long ball from East Fife was played over the Livi defence and goalkeeper Kelly decided to come out of his penalty area to head the ball away from the on-rushing attacker. However, rather than clearing the danger, the ball fell to Lamont who’s shot was deflected by an out-stretched leg and over the bar for a corner in what proved to be a dress rehearsal for the opening goal.
The visitors were struggling with the conditions and found themselves 1-0 down after only 9 minutes. A long high ball was sent over the heads of Livi’s three statuesque central defenders. With Kelly in no-man’s land, Jamie Insall took advantage and had the simple task of lobbing the ball over the keeper into the empty net. The Lions were stung into action and responded positively.
Within 60 seconds of falling behind, Buchanan raced to the byline and tried to find Mullen in the 6-yard box. However, his attempt was blocked and the ball deflected off the Livi player and agonisingly past the post. That wasted opportunity was ruthlessly punished by East Fife who doubled their lead in the 11th minute. A free kick was fired in from wide on Livi’s left hand side. The attacker easily out-jumped Josh Mullin, heading the ball back across goal to the unmarked Kane, who fired home to make it 2-0.
The Lions were shell-shocked and tried desperately to get back into the match. Attempts from Cadden, and then Crighton, didn’t seriously threaten Hurst in the East Fife goal. However, the keeper was fortunate to be given the benefit of the doubt by referee Lowe – in what was an afternoon of curious decisions – when he simply dropped the ball from a cross. The stopper would have been surprised, and relieved, to hear the whistle for a foul.
With 11 minutes until the interval, East Fife increased their lead after more uncertainty in Livi’s defence. Kelly appeared to be favourite to collect another long ball but let it bounce, allowing Insall to challenge him for it in the air. There was every suggestion that the goalkeeper was fouled by the diminutive striker, but Mr Lowe waved away Livi’s protests and Insall knocked the ball into the open goal.
The first half ended, with those from West Lothian scratching their heads at the poorest performance of the season so far.
Half time: East Fife 3-0 Livingston
The second half brought renewed optimism with hopes that Livi could utilise the strong wind at their backs. The Lions tried efforts from distance, firstly from Mullen and then Cadden, but Hurst saved both easily.
On the hour mark, Livi got the breakthrough that their early domination deserved. Buchanan showed excellent skill on the right hand side, beating his man and drilling the ball low across the 6-yard line. Josh Mullin’s delicious flick found the net and the deficit was reduced to 3-1.
With the hosts content to hold onto their lead and concede possession to the visitors, Livi brought on more fire power, with Carrick replacing Byrne. However, more calamitous defending by The Lions almost resulted in another goal. Lithgow, then Crighton, both lost their footing in separate incidents and were fortunate that the East Fife strikers lost their composure on each occasion.
The scene was set for the final 20 minutes that promised, and delivered, wave after wave of attacks by Livi. Despite dominating the ball, there were very few clear cut openings and time started to slip away. But the drama wasn’t over, even if the scoring had ended.
In the final minute, the ball broke in the centre circle and a 50-50 challenge between Mikey Miller and Pat Slattery was clearly won by the Livi midfielder. However, bizarrely, and to the bemusement of all concerned, the referee stopped play and showed Miller a straight red card. With frustrations running high, Livi’s Lithgow clearly caught Insall with an elbow after the ball had been cleared. Mr Lowe, correctly on this occasion, reduced Livi to nine men for the remaining seconds of the match.
Overall, the healthy travelling support left Bayview wondering how such a poor performance could have come so soon after a series of excellent displays in recent weeks. Suspensions mean that the starting eleven, which has picked itself in the last few games, will have to be adjusted for next week’s long trip to Peterhead.
East Fife: Hurst, Mercer, Slattery, Kane, Page, Lamont (Wallace 73), Brown, Insall, Smith (O’Hara 70), Wilkie, Naysmith
Subs not used: Goodfellow, Kerr, Austin, McManus
Goals: Insall (9 & 34), Kane (11)
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Lithgow, Halkett, Miller, Byrne (Carrick 61), Mullin, Cadden (Longridge 75), Pittman, Buchanan, Mullen
Subs not used: Maley, Sinclair, Knox, Currie, Watt
Goals: Mullin (59)
Referee: David Lowe
Match Report: Calum Brown