Franck Dja Djedje broke Livi hearts with a late winner at Easter Road to deny the Lions an impressive point that looked to have been secured by Ibra Sekajja’s first Lions goal barely 60 seconds earlier.
After soaking up wave after wave of Hibs pressure, Sekajja struck on 88 minutes to seemingly earn Livi a sensational draw only for Djedje to strike almost immediately and extend the Hibees winning run to six games.
After a couple of poor performances in losing to Falkirk and Raith Rovers, manager Mark Burchill made three changes to his side for the match as he brought in Darren Cole for his debut, Scott Pittman for his first start and Michael McKenna. Making way for the trio were Burton O’Brien, Danny Mullen and Jordan White.
Hibs flew out of the traps, as you’d expect from a side unbeaten in 13 games, and could have broken the deadlock inside ten minutes when Djedje took the ball off Gallagher on the byline and cut it back for Jason Cummings, but the teenager fluffed his shot and Craig Sives was able to clear. Lewis Stevenson then raced clear down the left but Callum Fordyce was well-placed to make a fine last-ditch challenge.
Martin Boyle was enjoying similar success down the right hand side for Hibs and he showed neat footwork to set up Scott Robertson but the ex-Dundee United man’s effort flew high over the bar. Boyle had an effort of his own soon after which Darren Jamieson did well to save. Hibs were rampant and Keith Watson was next to surge forward and send a dangerous cross into the box but there were no takers and Livi cleared.
It was midway through the first half before Livi showed any kind of threat, with Sekajja working hard to little avail. The Congolese striker was hauled down just inside the Hibs half and, after the initial cross was cleared, Pittman sent a lobbed effort goalwards which the home defence scrambled clear. It was the first of three corners in quick succession but none posed any threat to the Hibs goal.
Hibs were soon back on the front foot and Liam Craig’s free kick found Boyle at the back post and his header clipped the bar on its way out for a goal kick. Cummings was the next in line to try his luck as he wriggled in behind the Livi defence and sent in a low shot but his contact was scuffed and the shot trundled wide of the post. The breakthrough wasn’t long in coming though and it was little surprise that it was the home side who grabbed it as Cummings ran clean through and showed great composure to round Jamieson and slot the ball home.
Having grabbed the lead, Hibs swarmed forward in search of a quickfire second, as they had managed in their weekend Cup win over Berwick, and came close when Jamieson parried a strike from Boyle into the path of Cummings but Fordyce was in the right place to clear his follow-up effort off the line.
Livi were struggling to cope with Boyle and, after a fine diagonal pass from Djedje found the on-loan Dundee man, Talbot had to be sharp to make a last-ditch block. Boyle was soon in behind the Lions defence again and he turned provider for Djedje this time, but the striker couldn’t turn his low cross home. He was at it again barely a minute later but his low cross found no takers in bottle green shirts.
Livi had the last attack of the half but, after Keaghan Jacobs’ free kick was flicked on by Fordyce, Sives couldn’t control the ball and it rolled out of play. The half-time whistle followed soon after, Hibs heading in for the interval with just one goal to show for their near-total dominance as Livi’s tactic of frustrating the home side proved, for the most part, successful.
The second half started in much the same vein, though it was Livi who had the first chance as Sekajja played in Pittman and he worked an opening for himself only to see his shot cleared. There was a change in formation for the Lions in the second half with Cole dropping deeper to form a back three with Sives and Gallagher, Talbot and Fordyce operating as wing backs. Cole was quickly involved as he made a vital challenge to prevent Cummings running clear.
Star of the show Boyle was soon back into his groove and he released Cummings once again and he showed a smart drop of the shoulder to wriggle clear but could only fire over the bar. Livi were seeing a little more of the ball and some smart pass and move football ended with Sekajja being tackled as he shaped to shoot. Both sides made their first change as Cummings was replaced by Dylan McGeouch for Hibs and Danny Mullen came on for Pittman for the Lions.
Livi had a decent chance when McKenna released Mullen down the left but he went down under pressure from the Hibs defence as he tried to cut in and the chance was gone. Livi’s second change followed as Myles Hippolyte replaced McKenna.
Hibs won a free kick on the edge of the box as Watson went down a bit easily under pressure from Hippolyte but Craig’s effort was comfortably saved by Jamieson. Craig was replaced by Sam Stanton soon after. Watson sent a wicked ball across goal for Hibs but Liam Fontaine just couldn’t reach it on the stretch.
As the match moved into the final ten minutes, Livi boss Burchill sensed there might be a chance of getting something from the game and sent Gary Glen on in place of Talbot, the ex-Hearts man receiving a very welcoming reception from the home crowd.
Then came the drama as Livi claimed their improbable equaliser as Mullen knocked down a cross for Sekajja to prod the ball past Oxley to make it 1-1, which allowed us the first glimpse of his spectacular triple-somersault celebration. The celebrations fell flat for Livi though as Hibs stormed up the other end straight from kick-off to immediately regain the lead. The Lions defence switched off to allow Djedje a free run to glance a header in off the post from a fine left-wing cross to snatch all three points for Alan Stubbs’ side. Livi forced a late free kick in a dangerous position but Keaghan’s effort sailed high over the bar and Hibs saw out the victory.
In truth, it would have been daylight robbery had Livi held on for a point but a tremendous point it would have been and Mark Burchill now faces a tough task trying to lift his shattered players for Saturday’s trip to Ibrox.