Livingston suffered a harsh 1-0 defeat to Hearts in their last outing, with Robbie Neilson’s side snatching all three points from the Tony Macaroni Arena despite being second best for large spells of the afternoon.
Livingston’s first half performance was superb. Fans, journalists and pundits alike were scratching their heads as to how The Lions weren’t in front. The answer was Scotland’s number one, Craig Gordon.
The hosts started the better of the two sides, and created their first opening when Jack McMillan, deployed in a midfield role, robbed Ben Woodburn of possession in the middle of the park. He slipped in Alan Forrest down the left-hand side, but the winger dragged his shot across goal and wide of the far post.
With the help of Stephane Omeonga, McMillan did brilliantly once again in midfield as he stole the ball from Woodburn before playing a beautiful disguised ball through for Andrew Shinnie. The attacker was one on one with Craig Gordon, but was denied by his big frame.
This prompted more moments of brilliance by the Hearts stopper as seconds later, in the same passage of play, he denied Jason Holt after Craig Sibbald had smashed the post following Shinnie’s miss. The ball broke to former Hearts man Holt, whose effort was goal bound only for it to be clawed from the top corner and onto the post by Gordon.
The rebound broke to Forrest but he couldn’t get past Gordon who made another save before the ball was scrambled away. It was a simply stunning, game-defining triple save from the Hearts stalwart who seems to be getting better with age. If not for the goalkeeper, approaching 39 at the end of the month, Livingston would have had a healthy lead going in at the break.
It was beginning to feel like one of those days for Livi who, despite their phenomenal performance, couldn’t find the back of the net after 11 first half shots.
Half time came at the worst possible moment for Livingston as they were on top, and it took Hearts just four second half minutes to take the lead with their first clear cut chance of the game. John Souttar’s ball forward was knocked on exquisitely by Barrie McKay for Liam Boyce. The striker took a touch before smashing beyond Stryjek to put the visitors in front against the run of play.
It was a highly frustrating one for Livi, who looked a shell of themselves after conceding. Boyce’s strike knocked the stuffing out of David Martindale’s men, and they were nearly two down as McKay put the ball into the back of the net but the assistant referee’s flag was raised.
The hosts were still in the game though, and threatened themselves after Aaron McEneff was denied by Stryjek. Alan Forrest cut in on his favoured right foot, beating Souttar to make space for a shot only to see his effort parried by Gordon again.
Down the left again, Livi had another opportunity as Forrest found substitute Cristian Montaño. The winger’s left footed effort across goal flew just wide as The Lions pushed for an equaliser.
Their willingness to find a late goal left them vulnerable at the back, and Hearts should have capitalised on a couple of occasions to wrap the game up. Boyce’s fantastic through ball put McEneff through on goal, but he blazed an effort over the bar before Gnanduillet rounded Stryjek and missed the target from close range.
The Jam Tarts would claim all three points in the end in a thoroughly entertaining game. It’s one that Livingston will be frustrated not to take anything from the game that their play merited, but it’s also a match that they can take plenty of positives from after a much, much improved performance from Pittodrie on Wednesday.
Match Report: Calum Brown
Livingston: Stryjek, Devlin Fitzwater, Parkes, Penrice, Holt ▊, Omeonga (Panayoitou 68), McMillan (Montano 63), Sibbald ▊ (Anderson ▊ 63), Forrest, Shinnie
Subs not used: Maley, Kelly, Obeleye, Williamson
Heart of Midlothian: Gordon, Smith (Moore 17), Kingsley, Soutar ▊, McEneff, Woodburn (Haring ▊ 29), Boyce (Gnanduillet ▊ 80), Devlin*, Cochrane, McKay, Halkett
Subs not used: Stewart, Walker, McKay-Steven, Ginnelly
Goals: Boyce (49)
Referee: Kevin Clancy