With Livi’s 5-1 thrashing Stranraer on the opening day of the season, the league leaders were favourites for this one in the return fixture.
Stair Park was the venue, a return to the ground where The Lions were hammered 5-2 in last season’s play-offs, which ultimately sent the West Lothian club down to League One. Livi were unchanged from last weekend’s 1-0 victory away to Albion Rovers.
The game started with Stranraer on top, with the visitors struggling to string passes together. Willie Gibson looked a danger on the left wing, and won a free kick early on for the Blues. The winger stepped up to take it himself and. from the left hand corner of the edge of the box, he bent it around the four man wall and into the top right corner, leaving Liam Kelly with no chance. It was a fine strike by Stranraer’s main threat and it gave the hosts a 1-0 lead within only 5 minutes.
Livi had yet to start and were caught cold by their hosts. This was genuinely the most exciting moment of a first half that lacked goalmouth action and creativity. Stranraer deserved their lead, whilst Livingston did not look like the side at top of the table having failed to record a serious shot on goal in the opening 45 minutes. Without any real opportunities from the team in black and yellow, it was one of the poorest displays from the league’s top team in the season so far.
HT: Stranraer 1-0 Livingston
After a dreadful first half, a strong performance was needed by The Lions in the second 45 minutes. It was clear that the team would need to battle, just like last weekend at Albion Rovers, if the three points were to head back to West Lothian. The home side still looked the more dangerous though, putting the Livi defence under pressure.
However, the visitors started to get back into the game as the second half progressed. Liam Watt found last week’s man-of-the-match Nicky Cadden, but the winger’s cross was claimed by Stranraer’s keeper Cameron Belford. The home side had been time wasting since late in the first half, with Belford at the heart of it, and this gamesmanship was frustrating The Lions, who had yet to make a clear cut chance.
A change was needed by Livi, and they were looking to bring on Dale Carrick, who had changed the game at Cliftonhill. Just as the striker was getting stripped, the Blues nearly doubled their lead. A tremendous strike from Agnew smashed off the bar and was cleared away. Was this a signal for Livi to grasp the game by the scruff of the neck?
On came Dale Carrick, to replace Liam Watt, who had been one of the only players that looked like creating anything. Manager David Hopkin was clearly going for it, bringing a striker on for a midfielder, to change his formation to a 4-4-2. Another change for the Lions a few minutes later saw Nicky Cadden make way for Josh Mullin, who went over to the right wing, with Raffa De Vita taking Cadden’s position on the left.
Minutes later, substitute Dale Carrick found himself in on goal. The striker saw Belford off his line and magnificently chipped the ball over the Stranraer No.1, but unfortunately for The Lions, his dinked effort hit the bar. It was Livi’s first real chance in the game and Carrick had already shown his ability to change the direction of the game. Both substitutions were making a significant contribution for the visitors, who looked a lot more dangerous as a result.
The breakthrough for the Lions finally came in the 77th minute. Josh Mullin, on the right wing, beat his man and bent in a wonderful cross to the front post. Dale Carrick was there to head home from about 6 yards out, with a composed finish. That header brought Livi back to 1-1, with only 13 minutes left to play. The striker was staking his claim for a starting post after impressing two weekends in a row as an impact sub.
With 10 minutes to go, Buchanan made way for youngster Jack Ogilvie. The striker was yellow carded already, and could have been sent off earlier in the match with a similar tackle to the one that saw him get booked. It was a smart decision from the manager, protecting the prolific striker from an ordering off.
Mullin’s fresh legs on the right proved to be too much for Stranraer. Scott Pittman drove forward and played a perfect through ball to the right winger just inside the box. Mullin drilled the ball across goal, and Raffaele De Vita smashed home from 2 yards out. It was a great goal by The Lions, taking the lead with only 6 minutes to play.
It was the stuff of champions from Livi, coming from a goal down late on to get all 3 points in the end but very harsh on Stranraer, who were arguably the better side.
FT: Stranraer 1-2 Livingston
Winning when the team is not playing at its best is always a great sign for a team with aspirations to win the league and Livi. Hopkin’s men, who now sit 4 points clear of second placed Airdrie face Stenhousemuir on Tuesday in a rearranged game at Ochilview. A win for Livi see The Lions go seven points clear at the top of League One.
Today’s performance was below par but it was a fantastic result in the circumstances, given the scores elsewhere in the league. There was more excitement for the travelling fans, with young Jack Ogilvie putting in an outstanding contribution when he came on as a substitute. The youngster looks like another hot prospect for the future…
Stranraer: Belford, Robertson, Dick, Barron (Watt 83), Bell, Morena, Turner, C.Thomson, Gibson, Agnew Nuttall
Subs not used: Currie, McKeown, Malcolm, Sherrie, McGuigan, R.Thomson
Goals: Gibson (5)
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Longridge, Byrne, Halkett, Watt (Carrick 60), Lithgow, Pittman, Buchanan (Ogilvie 80), Cadden (Mullin 71), De Vita
Subs not used: Maley, Neill, Currie, Knox
Goals: Carrick (77), De Vita (84)
Referee: Colin Steven
Match report: Calum Brown