Keaghan Jacobs made his 300th appearance for Livi as they strengthened their position in the top six of the Ladbrokes Premiership with a narrow victory over St Johnstone at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
It took the Lions five matches to register their first win after the winter break last year but Scott Pittman’s strike early in the second half ensured that they did so at the first attempt this time around. The visitors were grateful to keeper Zander Clark for preventing a more emphatic margin of victory.
Gary Holt made four changes to his starting line-up from the Scottish Cup win over Raith Rovers with Robby McCrorie coming in for his debut between the sticks alongside Jack McMillan, Jacobs and Scott Robinson. Ricki Lamie, Craig Sibbald and Aymen Souda dropped to the bench while Ryan Schofield missed out entirely through injury.
It was the visitors who were first to threaten and Liam Gordon went close on four minutes with a snap shot from the edge of the box that flew wide of target. There was then a bit of a let-off for Livi 11 minutes later as Saints appealed for a penalty when Michael O’Halloran went down under pressure from McCrorie and Ciaron Brown but ref Euan Anderson waved their appeals away to the dismay of Saints boss Tommy Wright.
The Lions came within inches of breaking the deadlock on 31 minutes when they were awarded a free kick 20 yards out for a foul on Marvin Bartley and Steve Lawson saw his effort crash off the outside of the post. McCrorie then produced a fine double save moments later, first denying O’Halloran with his feet before getting up to hold Jason Holt’s deflected effort.
Livi responded well to that and went close on 34 minutes when Stevie Lawless played a fine ball over the top for Robinson but Clark was out smartly to block. Lawless then did brilliantly to jink past three Saints midfielders before releasing McMillan but his cross was overhit and the ball ran harmlessly out of play. McMillan then picked up the game’s first booking two minutes later before Bartley followed suit on 43 minutes for a trip on O’Halloran.
The Lions should have taken the lead on the stroke of half-time as the two centre halves combined, Brown whipping in a tremendous which was met by Jon Guthrie at the far post but he could only send his header into the side netting as the scores remained level at the interval.
Half-time: Livingston 0-0 St Johnstone
Livi picked up where they left off after the break and were denied a spectacular opener by a superb save from Clark as Pittman unleashed a fine dipping effort from 25 yards that was kept out by a brilliant fingertip save from the Saints stopper. The visitors went straight up the other end and McCrorie had to be brave to block an effort from Stevie May at the back post.
The Lions made the most of that escape as they opened the scoring on 56 minutes when Lyndon Dykes collected a loose ball on the left hand side and his low ball in found Pittman at the far post and he steered the ball home from six yards for his first goal since August. He almost grabbed a second four minutes later but Clark produced another outstanding save to tip over his long-range effort.
Saints boss Tommy Wright made a triple change on 69 minutes to try and spark a response, sending on Scott Tanser, Chris Kane and Callum Hendry for Anthony Ralston, Liam Craig and May. Livi then made their first switch three minutes later as Lamie came on for Lawson with McMillan switching to right-back and Lamie slotting in on the left.
There was a bit of a let-off for Livi, and McCrorie, on 74 minutes as he came rushing out and was beaten to a through ball but Brown was on hand to clear O’Halloran’s goalbound effort off the line. Pittman and Dykes then linked up well at the other end two minutes later to hand the latter a shooting opportunity but Clark was able to save with his knees.
Saints sub Kane picked up a yellow card ten minutes from time for a needless kick out at Lamie before Chris Erskine replaced Lawless in Livi’s second change shortly after. Robbie Crawford then came on for McMillan two minutes later as Jacobs became the Lions’ third right back of the evening.
The visitors threw the kitchen sink at the Livi defence in the closing minutes but McCrorie was equal to every high ball that they sent his way as he sealed a debut clean sheet and a third straight win for the Lions.
Full-time: Livingston 1-0 St Johnstone
Livingston: McCrorie, Lawson (Lamie 72), Brown, Guthrie, McMillan (Crawford 83), Bartley, Jacobs, Pittman, Lawless (Erskine 81), Robinson, Dykes
Subs not used: Stewart, Sibbald, Tiffoney, Souda
Goals: Pittman (56)
St Johnstone: Clark, Ralston (Kane 70), Gordon, Kerr, Booth, Craig (Hendry 70), McCann, Holt, Wright, O’Halloran, May (Tanser 70)
Subs not used: Parish, Duffy, Wotherspoon, Kennedy
Referee: Euan Anderson
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photo Gallery: Rae Irvine