Bottom of the league Stranraer travelled to the Toni Macaroni Arena to take on the league leaders today, in a match that did not look like a top versus bottom encounter to anyone watching from the stands.
The Lions were unchanged from their 2-2 draw away to Alloa last weekend, and Keaghan Jacobs returned to the squad for the second time in his career, taking his place on the bench.
There was nothing to separate the sides in the first half, with the weather coming out on top. The conditions made passing the ball extremely difficult. The first real talking point came when Livi’s Mark Millar was cautioned for a cynical trip on Willie Gibson, for a clear booking.
Shortly after, Livi had the first chance of the game but it wasn’t clear cut to say the least. Nicky Cadden laid off Pittman on the edge of the box, but the midfielder’s shot was deflected for a corner. A minute later, there was a second yellow card of the game and it was again given to a man in black.
Danny Mullen won the ball from the Stranraer defender but was judged by the referee to have gone in too heavily, resulting in a booking for the striker. The whole of the first half lacked any real excitement or incidents, with stoppages due to fouls, throw-ins and so many misplaced passes.
The wind, rain, sleet and snow made it almost impossible for the twenty two players on the pitch to take control of the game. In the 40th minute however, The Blues received their first yellow of the afternoon, which resulted in some tension afterwards.
Thomson brought down Mullen with a very poor tackle, then Mullen reacted to Willie Gibson and both sets of players got involved without the referee taking any further action. The first half finished goalless, with Stranraer matching the league leaders in all areas.
HT: Livingston 0-0 Stranraer
The Lions started the second half as poorly as they ended the first. Stranraer had an early half-chance from a Gibson free kick, but it was comfortably dealt with by Craig Halkett. Nicky Cadden, who had been matched very well by Stranraer’s right back Pettigrew, finally found space on the left wing, but his cross was cleared.
This was the story of the game for Livi, with one pass or one block denying them a break through. It was increasingly likely, after the hour, that the home side were going to find scoring that vital goal extremely difficult, with Stranraer defending very well and certainly not looking like a team rock bottom of League One. Raffa De Vita made his way on to the park for Nicky Cadden, whilst Kyle Turner replaced Michael Donald for the visitors.
Turner made an immediate impact as he won a corner for The Blues, however it was dealt with again by the Livi defence. The Lions created their first clear cut chance of the game after 70 minutes. Shaun Byrne found Danny Mullen who beat his man to find space, however his venomous shot was pushed wide by Belford in the Stranraer goal. From the resulting corner, the ball fell to centre back Declan Gallagher but he couldn’t find the target as his half volley flew over the bar when perhaps he should have found the target.
Josh Mullin later replaced Mark Millar, with Livi looking to maintain their pressure on the visitors. The best chance of the game fell to Scott Pittman with around 10 minutes to go. Buchanan got to the by-line off the back of a hopeful clearance by Alan Lithgow, and cut the ball back for The Lions’ number 8 but his shot dragged wide.
It was a golden opportunity for the home side. Striker Amadou Kassarate replaced Craig Malcolm for the visitors, in a bid to give them more pace up front and fresh legs on the counter attack. The Lions were awarded a corner with five minutes to go, and opted to take it short. Mullin passed to Shaun Byrne who glided past two Stranraer players, then beautifully curled an effort with his left foot, only for it thunder off the crossbar.
That sort of technical quality had been lacking all day and it lit up the game as it entered its final moments. Another golden chance fell to Declan Gallagher from a corner, but his header was scrambled off the line by Belford, although Gallagher seemed certain his effort had crossed the line.
It was a terrific save by the Stranraer number one nonetheless, whose second half performance was worthy of the draw that his first half performance merited. Another late chance for Livi fell to League One top scorer Liam Buchanan. His perfectly timed run was picked out by strike partner Danny Mullen but the 31-year old couldn’t get his one-on-one effort past Belford.
The game finished goalless, perhaps surprisingly after a series of efforts from the home team as the match progressed.
Stranraer matched The Lions for much of the match, especially in the first half, however Livi will be disappointed not to have won the game after creating several wonderful chances towards the end. It was the West Lothian club’s second draw in consecutive games after having had none all season.
So, although disappointing, another point is always welcome. The players from both teams deserve considerable credit for withstanding the awful playing conditions this afternoon. The draw opened Livi’s gap at the top of the league to 11 points having now played the same number of games as Airdrie and Alloa, neither of which played today.
Next week is shaping up to be the biggest game of the season so far, with a trip to second placed Airdrie. If Livi are to bring back three points from North Lanarkshire and increase their lead in the race for the title, they will have to put in a better performance on the artificial surface than the one given today on grass.
Airdrie’s manager, Mark Wilson, will have learned very little about his next opponents as he watched on from the stands today.
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Lithgow, Gallagher, Halkett, Byrne, Cadden (De Vita 64), Pittman, Millar (Mullin 73), Buchanan, Mullen
Subs not used: Maley, Longridge, Knox, Todorov, Jacobs
Stranraer: Belford, Pettigrew, Barron, Robertson, Dick, Bell, Thomson, Agnew, Donald (Turner 70), Gibson, Malcolm (Kassarate 77)
Subs not used: Currie, Morena, Wilson, McGuigan, Kemp
Referee: Graham Beaton
Match Report: Calum Brown