Kenny Miller got his managerial career off to a winning start as Livi held off a fightback from Airdrieonians to secure a 2-1 Betfred Cup victory at the Excelsior Stadium.
Quickfire goals from Scott Pittman and Lee Miller gave the Lions a two-goal lead at the interval and, although Darryl Duffy pulled one back for the Diamonds after half-time, the margin of victory could have been greater with the woodwork denying Livi on three separate occasions.
The new Lions player-boss included eight of last season’s promotion heroes for his first game in charge with Liam Kelly, Ricki Lamie and the manager himself the only new faces in the starting line-up. Fellow new boys Craig Sibbald, Callum Crane and Steven Saunders were among the substitutes for the Lions.
Livi had their first half-chance on six minutes as Craig Halkett kept the ball alive on the left and crossed for Lee Miller but his header lacked power and went wide. Scott Robertson picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon for the hosts on ten minutes for a blatant pull on Lee Miller’s shirt. The big striker then came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock a minute later when he got on the end of Lamie’s cross but saw his header crash back off the crossbar into the grateful arms of Scott Gallacher.
The home side had their first sight of goal on 14 minutes as a sharp counter attack ended with Scott Stewart releasing Dale Carrick but Pittman got back brilliantly to dispossess the ex-Livi man. Chris O’Neil was the next in the book for the Diamonds three minutes later after a handball before the woodwork came to their rescue once again soon after, Alan Lithgow denied this time as he met Nicky Cadden’s corner but saw his header tipped onto the bar by Gallacher.
The Lions’ pressure was finally rewarded on 24 minutes when Pittman found space in a crowded penalty box and slotted a neat finish into the bottom corner. It wasn’t long before they doubles their lead, barely a minute in fact, as Kenny Miller’s cross was met by Lamie and, when his header was fumbled by Gallacher, Lee Miller was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Miller had the ball in the net again on 37 minutes, turning home the rebound after Cadden’s shot was parried, but the linesman’s flag denied him this time. Lithgow then got on the end of another Cadden corner two minutes later but planted his header wide. The home side almost pulled one back on 37 minutes as Ryan Conroy curled in a free kick that Kelly did well to parry wide before Lee Miller headed the resulting corner clear.
Kenny Miller came close to grabbing his first goal in Livi colours as he was played in by Scott Robinson but Gallacher got down well to save his low shot before Declan Gallagher headed the resulting corner wide. The player-boss then linked up well with Shaun Byrne but the midfielder’s long-range effort flew over the bar as Livi went in at the break with a two-goal lead.
Half-time: Airdrieonians 0-2 Livingston
The Lions started the second half strongly and came close to a third goal almost immediately as Pittman crossed for Robinson, who impudently chipped the ball over the defender before sending a volley straight at Gallacher.
Airdrie made the most of that escape as they halved the deficit on 53 minutes when Halkett was caught in possession and Duffy was allowed to run clean through and poke a low finish past the onrushing Kelly. The Diamonds almost drew level a minute later when former Livi captain Sean Crighton got on the end of a corner but headed just wide of target.
The woodwork was once again the scourge of the Lions soon after as Robinson wandered in at the back post to get on the end of Lamie’s cross but saw his header crash back off the post.
Kenny Miller tried his luck with a curling effort on 61 minutes but was unable to hit the target before the Diamonds came within inches of an equaliser almost immediately when Carrick thundered an effort against the crossbar. Halkett then had a chance to put the game to bed three minutes later when he got on the end of Lamie’s header across goal but he could only nod over. The Lions then made their first change on 65 minutes as Sibbald came on for Pittman.
One of the most memorable goals of last season was Lee Miller’s glorious overhead kick against St Mirren and he came close to recreating it on 67 minutes but his effort flew inches wide. Halkett then got on the end of a long throw from Lithgow three minutes later but sent his header straight at Gallacher.
The Diamonds then made a double change as O’Neil and Duffy were replaced by Edwards and Leighton McIntosh before Halkett made two crucial blocks in quick succession to deny the home side chances to equalise, firstly blocking a shot inside the box before turning a low cross behind for a corner. Jack McMillan and Crane then replaced Cadden and Lee Miller as the Lions made their final changes. Kyle Wilkie then replaced Grant Gallagher for the hosts.
Patient build-up play from the Lions on 82 minutes ended with Miller firing a low effort on goal that was well saved by Gallacher before, up the other end, Wilkie released Conroy but he chose to shoot and sent his effort high over the bar. Livi then broke quickly and Sibbald tried his luck but curled his effort wide. Robinson then burst through on goal but his tame effort was comfortably saved by Gallacher.
Miller picked up a yellow card in injury time for a foul on Stewart as Livi held on to open their Betfred Cup Group F campaign with a victory. Annan’s shock win over Hamilton in today’s other match means the Lions have taken the early lead in the group table going into Tuesday’s night clash with Hamilton at New Douglas Park.
Full-time: Airdrieonians 1-2 Livingston
Airdrieonians: Gallacher, O’Neil (Edwards 72), MacDonald, Robertson, Crighton, Millar, Stewart, Gallagher (Wilkie 79), Duffy (McIntosh 72), Carrick, Conroy
Subs not Used: Victoria, Hutton, Russell, Cairns
Goals: Duffy (53)
Livingston: Kelly, Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, Lamie, Byrne, Pittman (Sibbald 65), Robinson, Cadden (McMillan 76), K.Miller, L.Miller (Henderson 77)
Subs not used: Stewart, Crane, Saunders, Clark
Goals: Pittman (24), L.Miller (25)
Referee: Nick Walsh
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine