Livi gave themselves a huge morale boost ahead of the play-offs as they claimed a notable victory over League Champions Rangers on a nerve-shredding night at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Just three days after being consigned to the relegation shootout theLions sent a strong message to the League One sides eyeing up their spot in the second tier as they claimed their first victory over the Ibrox side in 14 years.
Boss David Hopkin made three changes to the side from the dismal defeatat Queen of the South as Danny Mullen, Josh Mullin and Matthew Knox came in for Liam Buchanan, Charlie Telfer and Mark Fotheringham. Rangers boss Mark Warburton stuck with a full-strength line-up ahead of next month’s Scottish Cup Final.
The match started slowly with Livi doing a good job of keeping thevisitors at bay though ex-Livi hero Andy Halliday came close on sevenminutes with a fierce strike from the edge of the box that swerved justwide. The Lions forced their first effort after 15 minutes when Knoxfloated a free kick into the box which White headed goalwards but he was flagged offside. A minute later Michael O’Halloran raced towards goal but his cutback was brilliantly blocked by Craig Halkett.
Rangers came close to breaking the deadlock on 18 minutes when adefence-splitting ball sent O’Halloran clear but his low effort rolledjust wide. The champions were enjoying a good spell and Kenny Miller cut in from right on 23 minutes and teed up James Tavernier but his shot was blocked and Halliday could only shank an effort out for a throw-in.
Morgyn Neill picked up the game’s first yellow card on 28 minutes forhandling the ball after he misjudged the flight of a long ball. Halliday curled the resulting free kick just over the bar from 25 yards. Livi came within inches of taking the lead after 32 minutes when Gedion Zelalem lost possession in midfield and Sam Stanton released Mullen but the striker fired a low effort across goal and just wide.
Livi had taken control of the match and came close again on 39 minuteswhen Stanton showed quick feet to burst past Dominic Ball and into thebox but his powerful effort fizzed across goal and wide. Mullen cameclose again on 43 minutes when the ball deflected kindly into his pathabout 30 yards from goal but his effort flew just wide of WesFoderingham’s left hand post.
The Lions’ growing dominance was rewarded with the final action of thehalf as a delicious free kick from Knox was met by HALKETT who glanced a perfect header over Foderingham and into the net to give Livi ahalf-time lead.
HALF-TIME: LIVINGSTON 1-0 RANGERS
This was the fourth match in succession that the Lions had taken a 1-0 lead into the interval. Having lost the previous three there remainedlittle cause for optimism among the home support and their nerves wereinstantly on edge as Rangers made a bright start to the second half.Halliday was the first to try his luck two minutes into the half but, as was his problem all night, his shooting was wayward and the effort flew high over the bar.
The Livi defence was staying resolute and restricting Rangers tolong-range efforts, Miller the next to try his luck with an ambitious 30 yard volley on 52 minutes that flew high into the stands. Gers bossWarburton made a double change on the hour as Barrie McKay and JasonHolt came on for Dean Shiels and Billy King, neither of whom had beenable to exert much influence on proceedings.
David Hopkin followed suit five minutes later as Buchanan came on forWhite before sending Ryan Currie on for Mullen shortly after. Nicky Lawthen replaced Zelalem in Rangers’ final change before the flurry ofchanges ended on 75 minutes as Jordyn Sheerin replaced the excellentKnox.
Rangers were enjoying a good spell but the Lions defence washolding firm. Despite Rangers’ pressure, Livi passed up a huge chance to double theirlead after 77 minutes when superb play from Mullin on the right wing saw him reach the byline and curl in a superb cross which Buchanan rose well to meet but he couldn’t get over the ball and sent his header over the bar. Rangers headed up the other end and Marc McCallum was called into serious action for the first time in the match with ten minutes to go as he parried Holt’s fierce effort from just inside the box.
Livi really should have gone 2-0 up on 83 minutes when Buchanan tookadvantage of sloppy play from Ball to go clean through but the Gersdefender did well to make up the ground to force Buchanan slightly wideand his shot was blocked by Foderingham’s face. Up the other end, Miller fired in a low drive from the edge of the box that slid just wide.
The champions threw everything at the Livi goal in the dying minutes but the defence stayed strong, nullifying any threat they posed, and,despite an excessive amount of stoppage time, the Lions held oncomfortably to claim a famous victory and give themselves a massive shot in the arm as they ready themselves for the play-off battle ahead.
FULL-TIME: LIVINGSTON 1-0 RANGERS
Next up for the Lions is the final match of the regular season againstRaith Rovers at the Tony Macaroni Arena. Please remember that this match will take place on Sunday 1st May with a 12:30pm kick off.
Livingston: McCallum, Halkett, Kakay, Neill, Longridge, Mullin, Mullen (Currie 70), Knox (Sheerin 75), Stanton, White (Buchanan 65), Pittman
Subs not used: Jamieson, Fotheringham, Telfer
Goals: Halkett (44)
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Wallace, Ball, Zelalem (Law 71), Miller, Halliday, King (McKay 60), Shiels (Holt 60), Wilson, OHalloran
Subs not used: McCronrie, Kiernan, Clark, Burt
Referee: Greg Aitken
Match Report: Andy Crawford