The Lions were tamed once again by the men from Methil, crashing out of the Scottish Cup at the Toni Macaroni Arena on a bitterly cold afternoon under the floodlights.
Livi were unable to field two of their three January signings, with Mark Millar cup-tied and Keaghan Jacobs waiting for international clearance. However, Declan Gallagher was able to play his first home game since his return to the club.
The early frost had mostly cleared by kick-off but the mist threatened to spoil the spectacle. The pitch hadn’t benefitted from four weeks without action, since Livi’s last home game was on Christmas Eve, and there were several areas with divots. The Lions took to the field in their familiar black kit, with East Fife wearing a less recognisable purple away strip.
It was the visitors who had the first effort of the day, but Paterson’s free kick was easily saved by Kelly in the Livi goal. With only 8 minutes on the clock, the home team had a glorious chance to take the lead. Cadden played an excellent cross to the back post but De Vita’s effort from 3 yards, under pressure from a covering defender, was struck into the ground and went over the bar when it seemed easier to score.
The game continued to flow from end to end, like a proper cup tie, and half chances were evenly shared between the sides. First, Robinson’s attempt for The Fifers flashed wide of the post before Buchanan’s header for the home team was pushed away for a corner by Goodfellow. Further headers by Mullen and Lithgow failed to trouble the keeper and the match entered a scrappy period.
Jamie Insall almost salvaged a poor corner with an acrobatic overhead kick from 6 yards out but the ball missed the target by a few feet. But that moment, after 26 minutes, was the taste of things to come. Only 60 seconds later, another East Fife corner was cleared out of the penalty area to Nick Paterson who hit a spectacular unstoppable volley from 25 yards beyond Kelly into the corner of the net.
It was a goal worthy of winning any match and even the home supporters could do nothing other than applaud such a tremendous strike. On the half hour mark, the visitors received the first of four yellow cards, with Ross Brown being cautioned for simulation. A bad foul by Chris Kane added his name to the referee’s notebook. With the first half drawing to a close, Livi’s Nicky Cadden struck a fine free kick from 25 yards but the keeper tipped it over for a corner and East Fife’s Paterson saw his left footed shot fly wide of Kelly’s post.
HT Livi 0-1 East Fife
The second half resumed with the same intensity and tempo as before. Only 3 minutes after the restart, Buchanan’s effort was blocked and Pittman’s follow up attempt narrowly missed the near post. Shortly afterwards, Cadden’s corner was cleared back to him and the resulting cross was met by Halkett but his glancing header missed the target.
Then, in the 54th minute, there was a moment of genuine controversy. Cadden broke free from the half way line but was cynically brought down by East Fife’s Slattery without any attempt to play the ball. The referee opted to issue a yellow card rather than a red one, much to the frustration of the home players, bench and supporters.
Both sides kept pressing for the next goal, with Mullen coming close for Livi and Insall coming close for the men in purple. The visitors, taking as much time as the referee would allow at every stoppage, used their experience to manage the game. Shortly after the hour mark, De Vita was replaced by Josh Mullin. With 15 minutes to play, Livi had two excellent chances to equalise in quick succession. Danny Mullen brought out a fine save from Goodfellow and then Scott Pittman’s effort brought the keeper into action once again.
With the home side becoming increasingly desperate, and East Fife looking to break on the counter attack, the scene was set for a frantic final 10 minutes. Cadden almost brought Livi level but his shot went wide of the post. The Fifers, having introduced Mark Lamont a minute before, broke into the penalty area and the substitute’s one-on-one chance was squandered when Kelly blocked with his legs.
However, there was drama as the match entered its final moments. With The Lions piling on the pressure, substitute Dale Carrick had a shot blocked and Liam Buchanan’s effort struck an outstretched leg when it looked net-bound. Then the ball fell to Carrick and his powerful shot struck the crossbar.
As the game moved into injury time, there was one final chance to the home side. With the ball bobbling around inside the penalty area, Carrick, Lithgow and Buchanan all had opportunities to score but a gaol line clearance was quickly followed by the referee’s full-time whistle.
FT Livi 0-1 East Fife
It was a game that was closely contested, with both teams trying to make the best of the conditions. East Fife, on an impressive unbeaten run of eight games before kick-off, were full of confidence. Livi, whose game was postponed last week, looked a little rusty and a yard slower than their opponents. Now that the cup run is over for another year, The Lions will be able to turn their full attention to the league campaign – starting with a home match against promotion rivals Brechin City next Saturday.
Livingston: Kelly, Lithgow, Crighton, Byrne, Pittman, Buchanan, Mullen, Cadden (Carrick 83), De Vita (Mullin 66), Halkett, Gallagher
Subs not used: Maley, Longridge, Sinclair, Sampson, Ogilvie
East Fife: Goodfellow, Slattery, Kane, Page, Kerr, Brown (Lamont 77), Smith, Robinson, Insall (Duggan 82), Penrice, Paterson
Subs not used: Cordery, Austin, Mutch
Goals: Paterson (27)
Referee: Colin Steven
Match Report: Calum Brown