Livi made it two huge wins in six days as Ryan Hardie’s injury-time thunderbolt secured a richly-deserved three points against third-placed Dundee United at a bitterly cold Tony Macaroni Arena.
After Matty Smith had cancelled out Scott Robinson’s first half opener for the Lions, Hardie struck from 25 yards in the first minute of stoppage time to seal another memorable win for David Hopkin’s side and open up a six point lead over Csaba Laszlo’s side, albeit having played two games more.
Unsurprisingly the Lions boss named an unchanged side from the thumping 4-1 win over St Mirren the previous weekend with both the starting XI and substitutes bench the same as against the Buddies. There was some drama before the match even kicked off with ref Craig Thomson carrying out an impromptu pitch inspection around 45 minutes before kick off as the temperature plummeted but fortunately he gave the green light.
It was the Lions who made the far brighter start and they had the first sight of goal inside two minutes as Hardie tried his luck from long range but saw his effort well saved by Harry Lewis. The on-loan Rangers man came close again on four minutes as he latched on to Miller’s flick on but Lewis was out quickly to smother the ball.
United’s first chance came on ten minutes when he tried his luck from distance but he saw his effort deflect off teammate Scott McDonald and fly harmlessly wide. That was their only sight of goal in the early stages and it was little surprise when Livi broke the deadlock on 22 minutes when Raffaele De Vita’s free kick dropped to Miller and he laid the ball back for Robinson to curl an imperious effort home from 20 yards with Lewis well beaten.
The Lions thought they had gone 2-0 up soon after as Hardie glanced a header home off the post, despite Lewis getting a hand to it, but he saw his effort ruled out for offside. It looked a marginal decision at best. Up the other end, Billy King came close to an equaliser on 33 minutes but saw his fierce effort well saved by Neil Alexander.
United were forced into a change on 37 minutes as Emyl Lyng was forced off injured to be replaced by Thomas Mikkelsen before Livi came agonisingly close to a second goal on the stroke of half-time as De Vita’s sublime free kick was brilliantly tipped over by Lewis to keep the Lions’ lead at one as the teams headed in for the interval.
Half-time: Livingston 1-0 Dundee United
Csaba Laszlo made a second change at the interval as Grant Gillespie was replaced by Smith but it was Livi who picked up where they left off as Robinson’s mazy run on 48 minutes ended with him firing a shot high over the bar. United’s Mark Durnan picked up the game’s first yellow card for a lunge on Scott Pittman. Nicky Cadden’s resulting free kick flew just wide.
United threatened again on 57 minutes with Flood again trying his luck from distance but this time his effort was pushed over the bar by Alexander. A quick Livi counter attack six minutes later saw Robinson thread the ball through to Hardie but his cross was just out of Pittman’s reach and rolled out of play. The visitors then picked up two quickfire bookings as Flood and Sam Stanton found their way into Craig Thomson’s book.
More Livi pressure saw Hardie again try his luck from distance on 65 minutes but Lewis got down well to save and hold his effort before Alan Lithgow picked up Livi’s first yellow card for a cynical foul to stop a United attack down the right. Cadden followed suit shortly after for delaying the taking of the resulting free kick.
Then came a moment of huge controversy as Pittman released Robinson to slot past Lewis but he was denied a second of the games by the linesman’s flag. Replays showed the ex-Hearts man had been at least a yard onside when the ball was played.
That proved to be a crucial moment as the visitors drew level somewhat out of the blue on 72 minutes when Livi switched off at the back, leaving Smith in space in the box to fire past Alexander at his near post.
The goal seemed to galvanise the visitors and they enjoyed a good spell of pressure, albeit without putting much pressure on Alexander’s goal, though Tam Scobbie came close with a header from a corner that flew just wide. Livi made a double change on 80 minutes to try and disrupt United’s momentum as Josh Mullin and Jackson Longridge came on for De Vita and Cadden.
The changes had the desired effect and Livi regained control, though United had a penalty appeal waved away on 89 minutes with Mikkelsen perhaps fortunate not to find his way into the book for simulation.
Having survived that scare, it looks as though a point apiece was to be the outcome but the Lions had other ideas as Alexander’s goal kick found Hardie and he took a touch before driving forward and, with the United defence backing off, he unleashed a superb strike low past Lewis from 25 yards to spark jubilant scenes among the home fans and seal a massive win for the Lions.
Full-time: Livingston 2-1 Dundee United
Livingston: Alexander, Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, De Vita (Mullin 80), Byrne, Pittman, Robinson, Cadden (Longridge 80), Hardie, Miller
Subs not used: Maley, Buchanan, Jacobs, Boyd, McMillan
Goals: Robinson (22), Hardie (90)
Dundee Utd: Lewis, Murdoch, Scobbie, Durnan, McDonald (McMullan 81), King, Stanton, Flood, Robson, Gillespie (Smith 45), Lyng (Mikkelsen 38)
Subs not used: Mehmet, Quinn, Slater, Mason
Goals: Smith (74)
Referee: Craig Thomson
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Pictures: Rae Irvine