It was so cold in Kirkcaldy that the Livi fans in attendance could have been forgiven for checking if Hell had frozen over as the Lions demolished ten-man Raith Rovers to claim their first away league win of the season and take the first step on the long road to Championship survival.
The Lions arrived in Fife on the back of a nine-match winless run and demoralised by a five-point deduction handed down by the SPFL the previous week that left them seven points adrift at the foot of the table but a renewed solidarity was evident among the players as they passionately applauded the travelling fans before heading down the tunnel after their warm-up.
The game could not have started any better for the Lions as they found themselves a goal and a man up inside three minutes. Neat build-up play sent Mark Burchill clean through and he was hauled down inside the box by Ross Perry, who could have little complaint as referee Crawford Allan pointed to the spot and brandished a straight red card to the former Rangers defender. Jordan White defied his long run without a goal with a supremely confident penalty, placing the ball coolly into the bottom corner to keeper David McGurn’s left to get the great escape off to the perfect start. The wild celebrations among the players emphasised the unity and determination with which they are approaching their survival battle.
Despite their man disadvantage, Raith continued to pose a threat and were soon screaming for a penalty of their own as Christian Nade burst through and threw himself to the floor under pressure from Declan Gallagher. Ref Allan waved away his claims and booked the big Frenchman for his vociferous protests. The game continued to flow from end to end though neither keeper was severely tested until midway through the half when Livi doubled their lead. Smart build-up play ended with the ball going wide to Callum Fordyce on the right and he curled a majestic first-time cross into the box and Burchill timed his run to perfection to power a header down past McGurn for 2-0.
The confidence was flowing back into Livi now and they were 3-0 up on 38 minutes after a stunning team goal. Tremendous one-touch football ended with White sublimely backheeling the ball through to the onrushing Gary Glen and his first time effort found the back of the net off the right-hand post. Livi were cruising but carelessly allowed Rovers back into the match on the stroke of half-time as Grant Anderson cut in from the left hand side and fired in a low shot which squirmed under Darren Jamieson at his near post to make it 3-1 to the Lions at half-time.
As you’d expect, Livi had to weather a fierce storm from their hosts as the second half got underway and they were grateful to young full-back Shaun Rutherford, who shone throughout both in attack and defence, who was in the right place at the right time to hook a goalbound header off the line with Jamieson beaten. A few weeks ago, the Lions might have wilted under Rovers’ onslaught but that new-found belief ensured there was no panic and they could have bagged a fourth when Jack Beaumont, who had replaced the injured Kyle Jacobs early in the first half, let fly from distance and watched in agony as his shot fizzed just wide with McGurn helpless.
Danny Mullen, a shining light during Livi’s recent darker period, also had a go from distance and came even closer, McGurn having to launch himself to his left and tip Mullen’s effort over the bar. The resulting corner found Gary Glen unmarked at the edge of the box and, after his first-time volley was blocked, the ball popped back to the ex-Hearts man and he sent his rebound just wide through a crowded box. Jamieson then atoned for his first-half mistake as he did well to push Anderson’s effort away after Nade’s knockdown before ex-Livi defender Paul Watson, who endured a forgettable afternoon against his old club, looped a header over the bar. Livi claimed for a second penalty soon after as Gary Glen seemed to be hauled down in the box but the referee saw nothing untoward and waved the claims away.
As time ticked down and Raith committed more men forward, Livi were using their pace to good effect on the counter and almost got their fourth when Rob Ogleby, who had come on for star man Burchill, cut in from the right and curled a low shot across goal and inches wide. It would only be a brief let-off for Rovers as the killer fourth arrived soon after. After an initial cross was blocked, White chased down a loose ball and curled a sweet first-time cross to the back post for the arriving Mullen who headed back across goal and into the net, sparking great celebrations in front of the travelling fans.
It was a fairytale afternoon for the Lions and, like all good fairytales, there was a happy ending as well as they bagged a remarkable fifth goal with two minutes to play. A woefully underhit backpass sent Ogleby clean through and, though he was fouled inside the box as he prepared to shoot, the decision was taken out of the referee’s hands as Michael McKenna, who had come on for Gary Glen, gleefully slammed the loose ball into the back of the net for his first Livi goal and cap a five-star show in Kirkcaldy.
The full-time whistle was greeted with yet more celebration as players and fans alike showed they were up for the fight and in it together, ready for the battles to come. There was one sour note for the Lions as Kyle Jacobs, having gone off injured in the first half, left the ground with a protective boot on his right ankle. John McGlynn, who had sounded a strong battle-cry to his players before the match, will hope it doesn’t prove to be too serious, though the performance of Beaumont having taken Jacobs’ place will surely ease any such concerns.
The first step on the road to survival has been negotiated then, and in some style too, and the Lions now head into next week’s home clash with Falkirk brimming with confidence.
Raith Rovers: 20 McGurn, 2 Thomson, 3 Perry, 4 Watson, 7 Anderson, 8 Moon (Conroy 76), 9 Stewart (Hill (5) Elliot (82)), 12 Callachan, 19 McKay, 23 McKeown, 27 Nade
Subs not used: 16 Vaughan, 30 Robertson, 31 Matthews, 17 Laidlaw
Livingston:1 Jamieson, 4 Mensing, 5 Fordyce, 6 Ky.Jacobs (Beaumont 11), 7 Kn.Jacobs, 14 Gallagher, 18 White, 19 Glen (McKenna 76), 20 Mullen, 27 Burchill (Ogleby 66), 31 Rutherford
Subs not used: 2 Sives,11 Hippolyte, 15 Praprotnik, 21 Grant
Referee: Crawford Allan
Match report: James Lothian