Livi’s survival hopes were dealt a blow as Hibs left West Lothian with all three points to hand the Lions a first defeat in six games.
Livi went into the match with a chance to climb off the foot of the table after Alloa’s weekend draw with Queen of the South left them three points behind the Wasps in the fight for survival. Hibs came to town on the back of their miserable defeat to Falkirk in the Scottish Cup semi-final and knowing a victory was essential if they were to have any chance of overhauling Rangers in the race for second place, the Ibrox side having beaten Dumbarton at the weekend.
The Lions side showed two changes from last week’s draw at home to Rangers as the suspended Jason Talbot was replaced by Bradley Donaldson, for his long-awaited full debut, and Keaghan Jacobs making way for Danny Mullen.
The match took time to settle down as the ball ping-ponged about between the two sides but it soon burst into life with three goals in the space of nine minutes. The breakthrough came on seven minutes as Scott Robertson latched onto a dinked ball over the top from Fraser Fyvie and sent a first-time effort beyond the despairing dive of Darren Jamieson to make it 1-0.
Within six minutes though, Livi were level in spectacular fashion as a long ball from Declan Gallagher bounced over the head of Paul Hanlon and Myles Hippolyte sent a spectacular volley beyond the dive of Mark Oxley and into the far corner of the net.
Sadly for Livi, an all-too familiar story was to play out as, for the second week running, they would gift the opposition a goal immediately after scoring one of their own. This time it came about courtesy of a comedy of errors in the Lions’ defence as numerous chances to clear were passed up which allowed Jason Cummings to slam the loose ball under Jamieson to make it 2-1 after 16 minutes.
With the controversial events of Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final between Inverness and Celtic still fresh in the mind, it was perhaps unsurprising that referees were being extra-vigilant regarding handball incidents and Livi’s Darren Cole was the first to be penalised (albeit harshly) for it and shown a yellow card. While the officials saw the handball they missed the fact that it took place at least a yard inside the Livi box so there was still an element of a let-off for the Lions.
Livi were competing well and almost took the lead on 27 minutes when a cross in from the left by Fordyce found its way through to Mullen but he was stretching all the time as his backheeled effort went straight at Oxley. Hibs then went straight up the other end and McGeouch whipped in a fine cross which Farid El Alagui rose to meet but his bullet header flew wide. The Moroccan striker then tried his luck from distance but his effort was well saved by Jamieson.
A second yellow card for handball soon followed, with Hibs defender Hanlon adjudged to be the latest offender, before Livi’s Donaldson followed suit for a foul on Robertson. Kyle Jacobs was then penalised for another handball minutes later, only to escape a yellow card from referee Andrew Dallas.
Livi’s hopes of a comeback were dealt a bitter blow just before half-time as Cole was sent off after being shown a second yellow card for a mistimed challenge on Cummings. While the first yellow card could be deemed harsh, he could have few complaints about the decisive second. The resulting free kick came to nothing and the teams went in for the interval with Hibs holding a 2-1 advantage.
Despite their one-man disadvantage, Livi made a bright start to the second half and wasted a big chance to equalise on 54 minutes when Mullen got in behind the Hibs backline but he was outmuscled by Liam Fontaine and Oxley was able to gather comfortably. There was a huge moment of controversy a few minutes later as Kyle Jacobs, who was filling in at centre back impressively in the absence of Cole, won the ball with an inch-perfect tackle on McGeouch but Dallas inexplicably pointed to the penalty spot. Fortunately for Livi, justice was served as Jamieson, as he tends to do in these situations, produced a fine save to push McGeouch’s spot kick wide.
Livi were forced into their first change on 64 minutes as Jordan White picked up a knock and was replaced by Rory Boulding. Hibs then made their first change as El Alagui made way for Dominique Malonga. There was real concern around Jamieson as he was left holding his ribs after a collision as he came to collect a corner and it looked very much like he was going to be replaced, with sub Kevin Walker all-but ready to take his place, but the brave Lions no.1 refused to come off and went on to complete the ninety minutes.
A second Hibs change soon followed as Cummings was replaced by Franck Dja Djedje and the visitors almost wrapped up the points within minutes as Fontaine rose to bullet in a header which Gallagher did brilliantly to hook clear off the line. Martin Boyle then raced in on goal for Hibs and fired in a low effort but Jamieson showed no ill-effects of his earlier knock and made a fine save with his feet. It was only a temporary reprieve though as Hibs clinched victory on 83 minutes as a poor clearance from Jamieson sparked a Hibs counter-attack which ended with Malonga cutting in from the left and placing a low shot into the net with the aid of a deflection off Burton O’Brien.
Livi responded with a double change as Gary Glen and Ibra Sekajja replaced Hippolyte and Donaldson while Hibs made their final change when Liam Craig replaced Fyvie. Livi sub Boulding tried to spark a revival but after getting into space he could only send a shot sailing over the bar. A yellow card for Scott Pittman was the final act of the match as Livi stayed three points behind Alloa at the bottom of the table and Hibs closed to within a point of Rangers with a 3-1 victory.
Despite the defeat, the Lions’ survival fight is still very much alive and, providing Cowdenbeath and Alloa get nothing from their weekend matches against Hibs and Hearts, four points from the last two games, away to Raith Rovers and at home to Queen of the South, would at least see Livi avoid automatic relegation and enter the cut-throat play-off competition against the sides finishing second to fourth in League One. First up is Saturday’s trip to Kirkcaldy, scene of one of our most impressive results of the season – a 5-1 win in early December. A repeat of that result would do just nicely!