The Lions looked to bounce back from cup final heartbreak on Sunday, as they welcomed Rangers to West Lothian, looking for a similar performance which held the Ibrox side to a 0-0 draw back in August.
Four changes were made from the final, with Max Stryjek Jack Fitzwater, Craig Sibbald and Gavin Reilly replacing Robby McCrorie, Efe Ambrose, Steve Lawson and Scott Robinson.
The first chance of the game fell early to the visitors. Joe Aribo got down the right hand side, and looked to cut back for Alfredo Morelos. It was intercepted, but Stryjek had to be alert at his front post and keep out the deflection, sending it behind for a corner.
A few minutes later, there was another big chance for Steven Gerrard’s men. Borna Barisic’s teasing corner was met by the head of Filip Helander, but the Swede’s header flew just over the bar.
Livi then had a couple of half chances of their own. Scott Pittman dragged a shot wide on the edge of the box after a nice move, before Julien Serrano’s cross was nearly turned in firstly by Robinson on the penalty spot, and then Mullin following in at the back post. Neither could make a clean contact and Rangers held firm.
With just eight minutes to play of the first half, Rangers were denied a penalty as Alfredo Morelos was booked for simulation. The Colombian rounded Stryjek and appeared to be taken down by the Livi stopper. Referee John Beaton felt the striker had thrown himself to the ground though and brandished a yellow card, much to the frustration of the Rangers bench.
Scott Arfield then had a golden opportunity just before the break. Ryan Kent cut back for Aribo, who had his effort blocked. The rebound fell straight into the path of Arfield who, on his weaker left foot, dragged just wide of the far post.
But the frustration of the denied penalty boiled over as Beaton signalled the end of the first half, with Gers boss Steven Gerrard marching on to the pitch to give the referee a piece of his mind. The former Champions League winning midfielder thought he may get an explanation from the official, but instead he got two servings Beaton’s yellow card and a red, and was sent to the stand for the second half following his outburst.
Just a few moments after the restart, Rangers had thought they’d finally taken the lead when Connor Goldson headed in a Borna Barisic free-kick. But the defender was offside, much to the surprise of Gerrard in the stand.
Alfredo Morelos then had two great opportunities from identical areas as he got in behind the Livi back line all too easily. But, with both efforts the Colombian’s finishing wasn’t up to scratch, with both flying wide of the target.
Morelos then had another guilt-edged chance to put the visitors in front. Barisic again whipped in a wonderful corner, and Goldson rose highest again. His knock down found Morelos in acres of space at the back post, but from close range the striker headed wide.
But; Livi’s luck ran out with three minutes to go as Morelos at the fifth time of asking put the ball into the back of the net.
The Lions had defended valiantly all game, but after Fitzwater and Steve Lawson had tried to clear the ball from Glen Kamara on the by-line, it broke for Steve Davis on the edge of the six-yard box. The experienced midfielder’s effort was saved by Stryjek, but the rebound fell to the unmarked Morelos at the back post, and this time he couldn’t miss as he put his side one step closer to securing their long-awaited title.
It was a hard one to take for Martindale’s men, who had put their bodies on the line all game and defended fantastically throughout. It just wasn’t to be in the end, but it certainly restored some pride after the disappointment of Sunday’s cup final.
The defeat makes it five without a win for Livingston, but the Lions are still in the driving seat for a top six spot. It’s a big one on Saturday as we travel to North Lanarkshire to take on Motherwell, looking to end that winless run and secure a top six place, which would cap a marvellous season for the club.
Livingston: Stryjek ▊, Devlin ▊, Fitzwater, Guthrie ▊, Serrano ▊, Bartley, Holt ▊ (⇔ Lawson 68), Sibbald ▊, Pittman, Mullin, Reilly (⇔ Robinson 23 (⇔ Tiffoney 75))
Subs not used: Maley, McMillan, Taylor-Sinclair, Ambrose, Kabia, Forrest
Rangers: McGregor ▊, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Arfield (⇔ Itten 73), Aribo, Kent (⇔ Zungu 90), Morelos ▊
Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Simpson, Hagi, Defoe, Wright, Stewart
Goals: Morelos (87)
Referee: John Beaton
Match Report: Calum Brown