Darren Jamieson was once again the penalty hero as Livi booked their place in the Petrofac Training Cup Final after seeing off brave Stranraer in a nerve-shredding penalty shootout at the Energy Assets Arena.
The League One side, who famously won the competition in 1996, had threatened an upset when Jamie Longworth fired them in front on the stroke of half-time but Gary Glen’s first Lions goal midway through the second half ensured the match went all the way to penalties, where Jamieson further enhanced his reputation with the match-winning save from Anthony Marenghi’s sudden-death spot kick.
Livi went into the match with their pride restored following the battling performance in losing narrowly to Rangers last weekend but without so much as a goal in their previous four matches, while the visitors arrived in West Lothian defending a five-match unbeaten run stretching back to their impressive 1-0 win over Falkirk in the previous round.
It was Livi who started the brighter, though, and came close to an opener inside seven minutes when Danny Mullen cut inside and fired in a decent effort which David Mitchell had to look sharp to push over the crossbar. Stranraer had their first shot in anger a few minutes later when Stephen Stirling fired in a strike from long range which Jamieson gathered comfortably. Livi were looking the more dangerous, the visitors doing well to survive a couple of set-pieces, but they had Kyle Jacobs to thank for a tremendous block to keep the scores level as a cross from the left almost found its way to Sean Winter at the back post.
Kyle was proving just as effective at the other end and he drove at the Stranraer defence before firing an effort over the bar before the visitors had their best chance of the match on 41 minutes when the ball found its way to Grant Gallagher in the box but his volleyed effort flew well wide of the target. It proved only a brief let-off for the Lions as Stranraer took a shock lead right on half-time when Longworth drove at the Livi defence and was given all the time in the world to pick his spot and arrow an effort into Jamieson’s left-hand corner to send the visitors in at the break with a 1-0 lead that they just about deserved.
The home fans hoped that falling behind would be the wake-up call their side badly needed and boss John McGlynn made a change at the break, sending on Myles Hippolyte – who had scored in all three previous rounds – in place of Shaun Rutherford. After a bright start from Stranraer in the second half, Livi began to pile on the pressure and came agonisingly close to equalising four minutes after the restart when Michael McKenna hit the byline and drilled in a fine cross which only just eluded Jordan White in the box. Hippolyte then came even closer with a low drive which fizzed across goal and inches wide.
It was all Livi by this point and Hippolyte came close again after fine link-up play with McKenna but this time his effort flew over the bar. The Lions then made their second change as Glen took the place of Mullen and within two minutes he brought his side level. Keaghan Jacobs did brilliantly to bring the ball out of defence before teeing up the ex-Hearts man and he took a touch before letting fly with a fine left-footed strike which found its way into the bottom corner for 1-1. The Lions had the bit between their teeth and surged forward in search of a winner, though their momentum was disrupted by a lengthy delay following an injury to Stranraer keeper Mitchell.
That break in play allowed the visitors to regroup and Marenghi came close to restoring their lead when he let fly from distance but Jamieson was equal to his attempt. Livi went straight up the other and Hippolyte almost won it with a fine strike from distance which Mitchell did well to push over the bar. Five minutes of stoppage time gave the Lions extra hope of a winner in the 90 minutes and they should have had it when a fine move ended with White teeing up Keaghan barely eight yards out but, with much of the goal at his mercy, he succeeded only in rolling a tame effort wide of the near post. That proved the final chance of normal time as, for the fifth time this season, Livi were taken to extra-time.
Only once in those previous four occasions had Livi been taken all the way to penalties and they soon set about trying to ensure they wouldn’t be again as a training ground free kick routine almost paid off when O’Brien teed up Hippolyte for a low strike which was deflected just wide with Mitchell beaten. Jason Talbot then tried his luck from fully 40 yards but his effort didn’t trouble the keeper. Mark Burchill, just on for McKenna, then did brilliantly to track back and snuff out a dangerous-looking counter attack from the visitors, who should have gone in front soon after only to be denied by a stunning double save from Jamieson, first from Longworth and then from substitute Danny Stoney, which kept the score at 1-1 as the teams turned around for the second period.
Despite being the so-called part-time outfit, Stranraer seemed to have more left in the tank as penalties drew nearer and they came close again with an effort from Marenghi which was deflected just wide. Jamieson then came to Livi’s rescue with an exceptional stop as Longworth coming clear, getting his angles spot-on to block the Stranraer goalscorer’s effort with his legs before gathering the rebound. Longworth was then denied what looked a certain winner soon after as Kyle produced a tremendous block to prevent him having a tap-in and send the match to penalties.
First up for Livi in the shootout was Kyle Jacobs and he struck a perfect penalty into the top corner to put Livi 1-0 up. Their lead was consolidated when Craig Malcolm send Stranraer’s first penalty hopelessly over the bar. Unfortunately, Malcolm’s effort proved inspirational to Livi’s Gary Glen who sent his penalty similarly high over the bar at the other side before Winter slotted his penalty away to square the shootout at 1-1. Hippolyte was next up for Livi and, having missed in the League Cup shootout win over Albion Rovers in August, he made amends with a fine penalty into the right-hand corner. Longworth was similarly efficient to keep the teams level.
Fourth up for Livi was Jordan White and he coolly sent Mitchell the wrong way to make it 3-2 for the Lions before Danny Stoney did the same to keep Stranraer in touch. Mark Burchill tucked away Livi’s fifth with aplomb to leave Chris Aitken, the brother of manager Stevie, needing to score to keep his side in it. He did, but only just as Jamieson got a touch to it but just not quite strongly enough. Captain Jason Talbot took Livi’s first sudden-death penalty and calmly slotted it into the side netting to pile the pressure back onto Stranraer, and Anthony Marenghi wilted under it as Jamieson sprung to his left to push away his effort and send the Lions into their first Challenge Cup Final in 15 years.
Of course it will be a while before we know the opponents and venue for the April 5 showpiece with Rangers and East Fife still to meet in their quarter-final with Alloa waiting in the last four to do battle for the right to face the Lions in the final.
Livingston: Jamieson, Sives, Talbot, Fordyce, Ky.Jacobs, Kn.Jacobs, O'Brien, McKenna (Burchill 98), White, Mullen (Glen 60), Rutherford (Hippolyte 46)
Subs not used: Walker, Ogleby, Robertson, Praprotnik
Stranraer: Mitchell, Gallagher, Longridge (Russell 105), Rumsby, McKeown, Aitken, Winter, Stirling (Stoney 80), Malcolm, Longworth, Gibson (Marenghi 69)
Subs not used: Forde, McCloskey, Tobin
Referee: George Salmond
Match report: James Lothian