Livingston welcomed Stenhousemuir to the Tony Macaroni Arena in a crucial top-versus-bottom encounter, just three days after a late victory over Stranraer at Stair Park.
Many would have been surprised that the game beat the weather, after considerable snowfall greeted the West Lothian public when they woke up this morning. However, the snow disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived and the match proceeded without the need for a precautionary pitch inspection.
Manager David Hopkin freshened up the starting eleven once again, making two changes from the team that began Saturday’s match. Jackson Longridge and Danny Mullen made way for Shaun Byrne and Raffa De Vita in a formation that took on a very different shape from the weekend.
Livi started very brightly and created several wonderful chances in the opening stages. The home side should have taken the earliest of leads, but De Vita’s effort in the first minute was stopped by David Crawford’s outstretched foot when it seemed certain that the Italian would score. Two quick corners followed and the pressure was already high on the visiting side.
In the 5th minute, Mark Millar tried his luck with a right foot shot but the ball flew wide of the target. Minutes later, Liam Buchanan’s close range header came close but cleared the bar. The home supporters, looking back to an equally one-sided game against East Fife only 10 days ago in which the dominant Lions lost out to a let sucker-punch, could be forgiven for fearing a moment of déjà vu.
Further attempts from Mullin and Buchanan, before the 20th minute of play, also failed to find the net as the first goal proved to be elusive. A shot from Scott Pittman, then a header from Nikolay Tododrov, added to the growing frustration that Livi’s domination was not being converted to a lead. However, in the 24th minute, the Bulgarian finally broke the deadlock. Josh Mullin created the chance with an excellent delivery from the right hand side and Todorov’s downward header found the corner of the net from around 6 yards out.
It was assumed that having gone ahead, Livi would go on to score the additional goals that their play deserved. Shortly afterwards, Alan Lithgow found himself on the end of a Mullin corner but the big defender couldn’t keep it down and the ball flew harmlessly into the stand behind the goal. A little after the half hour mark, the visitors had their first attempt on goal but Vincent Barry’s strike from distance failed to trouble Liam Kelly in the Livi goal.
With 5 minutes before the interval, Kelly was called into action when Duthie’s shot from 25 yards was fired straight at The Lions’ Number One. Livi continued to press and Craig Halkett’s shot came close to extending their lead but his right footed shot was saved by Crawford. Alan Lithgow was next to try his luck but his attempt from outside the penalty area failed to find its target.
However, seconds later, Lithgow almost scored from a moment of genuine skill. Following a classic goalmouth scramble, the ball was cleared to the defender on the edge of the box. He controlled it before bending a shot from 25 yards with the inside of his right foot, only for the ball to clip the outside of the post with the goalkeeper stranded.
HT Livingston 1 – 0 Stenhousemuir
Any hopes that the home supporters harboured for an early second half goal to settle the growing nerves were thwarted as the minutes passed and the clear-cut chances started to dry up. Livi continued to dominate possession but threatened less in the second period than they had in the first forty five minutes. In the 53rd minute, The Lions looked to have extended their lead but Josh Mullin’s effort at full stretch from only 4 yards out fell agonisingly wide of the post. With that vital second goal still beyond Livi after an hour of the game, David Hopkin made his first change in personnel when he replaced Mark Miller with Nicky Cadden.
A few moments later, Danny Mullen was introduced at the expense of Nikolay Todorov. It was Cadden who began to exert his influence quicker and the young winger came close to doubling Livi’s advantage from fully 40 yards after the Stenny goalkeeper found himself out of position following a clearance, but the ambitious attempt just missed the target.
Livi’s third and final substitution saw Jackson Longridge replace Liam Buchanan with only 18 minutes to play. With time running out, and the nerves increasing among the home fans, Danny Mullen had an effort that failed to concern Crawford. With only seconds remaining, the visitors launched a free kick into the penalty area and were rewarded with a corner that caused some panic but the danger was cleared and the league leaders collected another three valuable points.
In all honesty, the home side should have been out of sight by half-time, having created several glorious chances to score. As it was, that lack of clinical finishing against a stubborn, packed defence made the closing moments much less comfortable than they ought to have been for the Livi fans. Even so, another clean sheet and three more points meant that The Lions remained 9 points clear at the top of the league with only 7 games remaining. Another home game follows on Saturday, with the visit of Airdrie to the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Livingston: Kelly, Lithgow, Mullin, Halkett, Gallagher, Byrne, Pittman, Millar (Cadden 58), De Vita, Buchanan (Longridge 72), Todorov (Mullen 62)
Subs not used: Crighton, Knox, Sinclair, Maley
Goals: Todorov (24)
Stenhousemuir: Crawford, McCormack, Summers, Meechan, Kerr, Berry, Grant (Furtado 70), Millar (Gilhaney 90), Duthie, Robertson (McMenamin 70), Roy
Subs not used: Hamilton, Smith, Bowman
Referee: Barry Cook
Match Report: Calum Brown