Livi failed to raise the temperature on a bitterly cold afternoon at the Tony Macaroni arena against a stuffy, physical Peterhead side as the visitors took all three points back home to the north east of Scotland.
The game started slowly and neither side looked capable of creating any clear-cut chances. Peterhead, in their white shirts, seemed content to concede possession to their hosts. The Aberdeenshire outfit made their intentions apparent from the outset, with meaty tackles and plenty of physical contact being administered to a Livingston side that looked more lightweight than their opponents.
That physicality cost Peterhead’s Jamie Stevenson a yellow card after only 15 minutes for a poor tackle on Jackson Longridge, with The Lions’ left back taking several minutes afterwards to shake off the resulting knock. The home fans were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of creativity on show. In addition, there was a growing sense of injustice at the lack of intervention by referee Greg Aitken and his stand-side assistant when Livi players were barged in the back when attempting to control the ball.
Goal scoring opportunities were scarce in the opening period, with only half-chances giving either set of fans something to shout about. The ever-dangerous Rory McAllister, a threat to every defence, led The Blue Toon’s attack and showed some characteristically composed touches on the rare occasions that his teammates found him.
At the other end, Danny Mullen and Liam Buchanan tried in vain to link up and when the latter found himself in a good position to open the scoring, his low driven shot was deflected wide of Graeme Smith’s left hand post. The visiting goalkeeper was called into action a short time later, clutching Scott Pittman’s dipping volley to his chest after the midfielder found himself clear just outside the penalty area. After 35 minutes, Josh Mullin tried his luck but Smith saved easily at his bottom left hand corner.
With only 6 minutes until half-time, Peterhead took the lead with their first serious attempt at goal in what seemed like slow motion. Good play at the touchline by Brown resulted in the ball being played into the 6-yard area before a scrappy deflection fell to McAllister. With the Lions’ defence looking for offside, the big striker fed a short pass to McIntosh who had the simple task of tapping the ball into the empty net. McAllister picked up a yellow card after 43 minutes for a bad challenge but his side went into the interval with a one goal lead. HT 0-1.
No doubt the home team received the “Hopkin Hairdryer” during the break and it looked to have worked after only 3 minutes of the second half when Liam Buchanan’s low shot from 10 yards was diverted away from goal by the faintest of touches from a despairing Peterhead defender. The Lions’ play had a higher tempo all of a sudden and a series of glorious chances was created but squandered.
In the 56th minute, some great play by Shaun Byrne on the right hand side saw his driven pass across the 6-yard line fired over the bar and into the stand behind the goal by Danny Mullen, when it seemed easier to score. Only 60 seconds later, Byrne had an attempt of his own but his effort was saved by Smith in the Peterhead goal.
Shortly after the hour mark, Livi came incredibly close to finding the equaliser. A powerful header from Alan Lithgow flew 30 yards and landed beyond the visitors’ back line, but the onrushing Danny Mullen’s lob hit the bar and the rebound was cleared to safety. With the home side well on top, Longridge was replaced by Nicky Cadden as Livi looked to convert their superiority to goals. Meanwhile, the men in blue reminded their hosts that they continued to carry a threat. After 72 minutes, McAllister turned his marker and fired a dangerous shot that cleared Kelly’s crossbar by a matter of inches, brushing the top of the net as it flew out for a goal kick.
With The Lions committing more men into attacking positions, and having changed to three at the back, Peterhead looked threatening on the counter-attack. With the clock ticking down, and possession becoming increasingly desperate, the home side fell further behind with only 16 minutes to play. Scott Brown found himself in plenty of space and, from 25 yards out, stroked a curling shot beyond the reach of the diving Kelly to give his side a two-goal advantage.
But Livi weren’t out of it altogether and, to their credit, reduced the deficit in the 80th minute. Buchanan got to Mikey Miller’s bouncing through ball before Smith, who rushed off his line, and the diminutive striker raced on to head it into the open goal despite the attentions of two defenders. In an effort to complete the comeback, Mullin and Byrne were replaced by Knox and Carrick respectively. However, the visiting defence held firm and played out the remaining few minutes in relative comfort. FT 1-2.
So, in the end, it was another frustrating afternoon for the Livi faithful but results elsewhere saw The Lions retain top spot for another week. Despite never finding top gear at any stage in the game, the defeat was harsh and didn’t reflect the balance of play. The home side created enough goalscoring opportunities to win several matches.
However, if ever they needed reminding, today surely showed that some of their League One opponents make up for lack of technical skill by possessing hard work, determination, guile and physical aggression in abundance. There will, no doubt, be plenty of these occasions to come as the season continues. Next week’s away game against Airdrie will see the leaders take on the second placed team in the league, who’re arguably the form team in the division. It promises to be a more cultured encounter than today’s scrappy affair but the Livi fans would settle for an ugly victory to make up for this afternoon’s disappointment.
Livingston: Kelly, Miller, Lithgow, Crighton, Halkett, Longridge (Cadden 65), Byrne (Carrick 81), Pittman, Buchanan, Mullin (Knox 82), Mullen
Subs not used: Maley, Neill, Currie, Watt
Goals: Buchanan (80)
Peterhead: Smith, Stevenson (Riley 68), Noble, Ross, Kelleher, Strachan, McIntosh, Brown, McAllister (Rumsby 84), Brown (Dzierzawski 59), Blockley
Subs not used: Hobday, Baptie, Nassor
Goals: McIntosh (39), Brown (74)
Referee: Greg Aitken
Match Report: Calum Brown