Livi will take a narrow lead into the second leg of the Ladbrokes Premiership play-off final after a well-deserved win over Partick Thistle at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
In front of another bumper home crowd, the Lions fell behind to an early Kris Doolan header but, after quickly drawing level through Keaghan Jacobs, Scott Pittman struck with 17 minutes remaining the hand David Hopkin’s side a precious lead at the halfway point in the tie.
The Livi boss made one enforced change to his starting line-up from the home draw with Dundee United in the semi-final as Scott Robinson came in for Raffaele De Vita, who faces a long spell on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury against United.
The Lions started brightly and came close on nine minutes when Jacobs whipped in a free kick from the left that Declan Gallagher did well to head back across goal, with Lee Miller inches away from turning the ball home.
Having rarely threatened in the early stages, the Jags stunned the home support a minute later as they took the lead when Baily Cargill curled in a cross from just inside the Lions half that fell perfectly behind Alan Lithgow for Doolan to send a header down past Neil Alexander into the corner of the net.
It was just the start the Livi fans had perhaps dreaded but the Lions had the perfect response as they drew level barely three minutes later. Lithgow’s long throw was flicked on by Miller and, after Pittman had found Jordan Thompson, the on-loan Rangers man teed up Jacobs to fire a first-time effort past Tomas Çerny, though the Thistle keeper will feel he should have done better.
The quick equaliser allowed the Lions to seize control of the game and they came within a whisker of taking the leader on 22 minutes when a ball into the box was knocked down by Miller and Thompson let fly with a low, first-time effort that fizzed inches past the post – it was so close that half the home support thought it was in!
Thompson was involved again seven minutes in a real moment of controversy as he stole possession from Danny Devine and then appeared to be brought down by the Jags defender as he got set to run in on goal but, somehow, referee Craig Thomson failed to see an offence and allowed play to continue.
The referee took centre stage for the remainder of the half with Thompson and Shaun Byrne picked up yellow cards for fairly innocuous fouls, at least in comparison to others which had gone unpunished, as the teams went in at the interval on level terms.
Half-time: Livingston 1-1 Partick Thistle
The Lions continue to enjoy the better of proceedings after the interval and, having perhaps been a tad fortunate to escape punishment for the incident with Thompson in the first half, Devine breathed a sigh of relief again on 52 minutes as he picked up just a yellow card after catching Jackson Longridge with studs showing.
Livi came close to taking the lead on the hour mark as Pittman drove forward from midfield and got clean through on Çerny but, having been nudged out of his stride by Cargill, the Livi man couldn’t get enough height on his shot and the Jags keeper saved well.
The Lions made their first change soon after as Josh Mullin came on for Thompson before Robinson screamed for a foul after a collision with Barton at the edge of the box but there wasn’t a great deal in it. Jags boss Alan Archibald then made his first change as Blair Spittal came on for Steven Lawless.
Livi’s performance had been worthy of a lead and they were finally rewarded on 74 minutes with a fine goal as Gallagher sent a throw-in down the line for Robinson, who produced a fine flick inside to release Mullin. The winger hit the byline and fired a perfect low cross for Pittman to gleefully slam the ball high into the net from close range.
The remaining 15 minutes passed by with little incident, both sides appearing happy to settle for 2-1, with Livi sending on Nicky Cadden and Gregor Buchanan for Robinson and Miller in a bid to shore things up. Miles Storey replaced Conor Sammon for the visitors but the Livi defence was rarely tested, although Cargill did try to con a penalty from the referee with a shocking dive for which he was lucky to escape a booking.
The final whistle brought joyous scenes as the Lions moved to within 90 minutes of the Premiership and set up a blockbuster finale to the season at Firhill on Sunday.
Full-time: Livingston 2-1 Partick Thistle
Livingston: Alexander, Lithgow, Halkett, Gallagher, Longridge, Byrne, Pittman, Jacobs, Robinson (Cadden 78), Thompson (Mullin 60), Miller (Buchanan 87)
Subs not used: Maley, Frizzell, McMillan
Goals: Jacobs (13), Pittman (74)
Partick Thistle: Cerny, Booth, Cargill, Doolan, Lawless (Spittal 67), Barton, Devine, McGinn, Sammon (Storey 85), Edwards, Woods
Subs not used: Scully, Dumbuya, Elliot, Penrice, McCarthy
Goals: Doolan (10)
Referee: Craig Thomson
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine