Livi will face Partick Thistle for a place in the Ladbrokes Premiership after completing an aggregate win over Dundee United with a nerve-shredding 1-1 draw at a jubilant Tony Macaroni Arena.
The Lions came into the second leg with a 3-2 lead and, backed by a large and raucous home support, extended that lead through Alan Lithgow and, although Scott Fraser drew United level on the night, they couldn’t find a second goal to force extra time as Livi stormed into the two-legged final against the top flight’s second-bottom side.
David Hopkin made one change to the starting line-up from the first leg victory at Tannadice as Keaghan Jacobs came in for Scott Robinson, who dropped to the bench. Kick off was delayed by a few minutes as stewards escorted home fans from the full Main Stand to the South Stand, though when the match did get underway, hundreds of fans continued to walk between stands, inches away from the pitch.
The Lions got off to the perfect start as they extended their aggregate lead inside six minutes. Jacobs sent a free kick into the box which was headed across goal by Declan Gallagher and, after United keeper Harry Lewis flapped at the ball, Lithgow was on hand to head home from close range and spark wild celebrations among the home support.
Now needing two goals to force extra time, United pushed forward and Scott McDonald had sight of goal on 17 minutes but saw his effort brilliantly blocked by Craig Halkett. Livi suffered a blow a minute later as Raffaele De Vita was forced off with a knee injury to be replaced by Jordan Thompson.
The visitors got themselves back into the tie on 21 minutes with a well-taken equaliser. Jacobs was caught in possession by Sam Stanton and he played in Fraser, who showed terrific skill to jink into space before firing a low strike across goal and in off the far post.
The key for Livi was to ensure they didn’t lose a quick second as United came on strong, but they were able to stifle the visitors’ threat and leaving Neil Alexander with little to do. The busiest man in the remainder of the half was referee Don Robertson, who showed yellow cards to Livi’s Lee Miller and United duo Mark Durnan and Anthony Ralston, as the Lions went in at the break with their one-goal aggregate lead intact.
Half time: Livingston 1-1 Dundee United (4-3 on aggregate)
The Lions came blasting out of the traps after the restart and were within inches of retaking the lead on the night within two minutes as Scott Pittman was played in behind and fired a low effort across goal that cannoned back off the post, with no one on hand to put away the rebound.
United set about trying to make the most of the reprieve as they began to dominate possession and Shaun Byrne picked up a yellow card for a foul on Bilel Mohsni. Livi made their second change on 67 minutes as Nicky Cadden came on for Josh Mullin.
The Lions were left furious a minute later as they were denied a stonewall penalty when Mohsni jumped with Gallagher but stretched his hand above his head to flick the ball away. Inexplicably it was missed by both the referee and his assistant.
The referee was having a busy night and McDonald was next into the book for the visitors after a rash tackle on Thompson before United made their first change with 14 minutes to go as Matty Smith replaced the ineffective Thomas Mikkelsen.
The visitors finally tested Alexander in the Lions goal on 77 minutes as Billy King found space but the Livi stopper got down well to hold his low strike from the edge of the box. United boss Csaba Laszlo made his second change five minutes later as Paul McMullan came on for Grant Gillespie.
Livi made their final change on 86 minutes as Robinson came on for Lee Miller, who had put in a tireless shift up front, as the ex-Hearts man almost wrapped things up with his first touch as he got in behind and fired in a ferocious effort that crashed against the bar before Cadden’s follow-up effort was blocked.
Three minutes of added time were signalled and the Lions were able to see those out surprisingly comfortably to book their place in the showpiece against the Jags and move, potentially, to within 180 minutes of the Premiership. The final whistle brought jubilant scenes among the home support as another chapter was written in this fairytale season.
Full-time: Livingston 1-1 Dundee United (4-3 on aggregate)
Livingston: Alexander, Lithgow, Halkett, Gallagher, Longridge, Pittman, Byrne, Mullin (Cadden 68), De Vita (Thompson19), Miller (Robinson 87), Jacobs
Subs not used: Maley, Buchanan, McMillan, Frizzell
Goals: Lithgow (6)
Dundee Utd: Lewis, Murdoch, Durnan, McDonald, Mikkelsen (Smith 79), Fraser, King, Stanton, Gillespie (McMullan 83), Ralston, Mohsni
Subs not used: Scobbie, Edjenguele, Slater, Robson, Donaldson
Goals: Fraser (21)
Referee: Don Robertson
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine