Livi’s gallant Betfred Cup run ended in controversy as a late Anthony Stokes penalty saw Hibernian edge in to the semi-finals on an agonising night at Easter Road.
The Lions led twice through Alan Lithgow’s first goal for the club and a superb strike from Raffaele De Vita but were pegged back by efforts from Danny Swanson and Martin Boyle before ref Bobby Madden’s late intervention allowed Stokes to win it for Neil Lennon’s side.
Livi boss David Hopkin made five changes to his side from the 3-1 win at Inverness as De Vita, Matthew Knox, Keaghan Jacobs, Nicky Cadden and Dale Carrick came in for Jackson Longridge, Josh Mullin, Danny Mullen, Dylan Mackin and Scott Robinson.
The home side were the quickest out of the blocks and instantly set about applying pressure on the Lions defence. Martin Boyle was the first to have a crack for Hibs with three minutes on the clock, but his effort was blocked by Todorov before Stokes saw a header well saved by Neil Alexander soon after. The resulting corner was taken short by Swanson, with the midfielder finding Boyle and the forward sending a piledriver towards goal, which again Alexander saved.
The Lions were under relentless pressure but stunned their hosts on 10 minutes when, with their first attack, they broke the deadlock as De Vita whipped in a free kick for Lithgow and he looped an inch-perfect header over Ross Laidlaw for his first goal in a Livi shirt.
Despite the goal, Hibs continued to dominate proceedings and Stokes’ perseverance was almost rewarded when he managed to get the break of the ball from a tackle, but Alexander was equal to the effort once more.
The Lions could only hold out for so long and Hibs found their equaliser on 18 minutes when Steven Whittaker laid the ball back for Swanson and he curled a fine first-time effort into the top corner, leaving Alexander rooted to the spot.
Hibs remained in the ascendancy but were stunned once again on 27 minutes as Livi retook the lead. Carrick did brilliantly to force a mistake in the Hibs defence and the ball fell to De Vita at the edge of the box and he swept a sublime half-volley into the net off the underside of the bar.
The lead was only to last four minutes this time but the home side’s second equaliser was hugely controversial. After Hibs were awarded a free kick when Jacobs clearly won the ball in a challenge with John McGinn, Swanson’s free kick flew through the wall and wide but the referee inexplicably awarded a corner kick. From that corner, the ball was worked through to Boyle and he fired a low angled drive past Alexander.
Both sides had one more chance each before the break, but neither Dale Carrick or Stevenson were able to work the goalkeepers as a breathless first half ended with the teams still all square.
Half-time: Hibernian 2-2 Livingston
After the break, both sides were fairly slow out of the traps, with Livingston again content to sit back and look to hit Hibernian on the counter.
It took until the 53rd minute for Alexander to be tested again, when McGinn’s low effort was held by the veteran shot-stopper and a minute after Swanson curled wide of the upright. Boyle was next to have a go but his effort was blocked en route to goal before Danny Mullen threatened for David Hopkin’s side, firing an effort wide from distance.
Still, the home side flooded forward looking for a winner and Whittaker curled wide of the far post after some great build-up play, closely followed by Stokes twice shooting narrowly wide of Alexander’s goal.
The winning goal arrived seven minutes from time and it was another moment that referee Bobby Madden will not want to see again as Todorov got a toe on the ball as he challenged Hanlon, only for the referee to blot his copybook further by pointing to the spot. Stokes put the controversy out of his mind and stepped up to fire the spot kick low into the bottom left hand side of the net.
Trailing for the first time in the match, Livi threw caution to the wind in the final few minutes as they searched for an equaliser but couldn’t force a last chance as Hibs held on to reach the last four. David Hopkin stormed onto the pitch at full-time to confront referee Madden before hailing the travelling support as Livi’s fairytale run ended in the worst possible fashion.
Full-time: Hibernian 3-2 Livingston
Hibernian: Laidlaw, Gray (Whittaker 13), Hanlon, Bartley, McGinn*, Slivka (McGeogh 66), Swanson (Barker 88), Stevenson, Boyle, Ambrose, Stokes
Subs not used: Marciano, Matulevicius, , Murray, Porteous
Goals: Swanson (18), Boyle (32), Stokes (pen 83)
Livingston: Alexander, Todorov*, Halkett*, Lithgow, De Vita (Longridge 43), Byrne, Pittman, Jacobs (Mullen 62), Cadden, Carrick, Knox (Mullin 56)
Subs not used: Maley, Mackin, Robinson, Brown
Goals: Lithgow (10), De Vita (28)
Referee: Bobby Madden
Match Report Andy Crawford