Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline

It was a tale of two penalties as Livi were forced to settle for a share of the spoils on their return to the Ladbrokes Championship at the Tony Macaroni Arena.

In front of s bumper crowd, boosted by a sizeable travelling support, Scott Pittman had given the Lions the lead before Kallum Higginbotham brought Dunfermline level when he converted from 12 yards after Joe Cardle had conned ref Alan Newlands into pointing to the spot. Danny Mullen then saw his spot kick saved by Sean Murdoch four minutes from time to deny the Lions what would have been a deserved win.

David Hopkin made two changes to the starting XI from the last competitive outing against Stranraer – Josh Mullin and Danny Mullen coming in for Dylan Mackin and Raffaele De Vita.

Both sides came into the match having won their respective Betfred Cup groups but it was the Lions who made the brighter start and came close to taking the lead inside the first minute when Mullin picked up the ball 25 yards out and fired in a powerful low drive that was parried by Murdoch before Dale Carrick’s rebound was cleared.

Livi continued to dictate the play and Keaghan Jacobs tried to release Carrick but his through ball was fractionally too heavy and ran out of play. Carrick then did well to wriggle into space at the edge of the box but, as he tried to release Jackson Longridge, he saw his pass blocked by the referee.

The Pars showed their first signs of life on 11 minutes as Higginbotham was released down the left but Neil Alexander gathered his cut back with ease. That proved to be a rare foray into Livi territory for Allan Johnston’s side in the first half as the League One champions continued to dominate.

Six minutes later, Carrick had a sight of goal when the ball fell at his feet inside the box but his low, angled drive was straight at Murdoch. Alan Lithgow then got on the end of a Mullin free kick soon after but saw his header deflected wide. The resulting corner was punched clear by Murdoch but Mullen recovered possession and found Mullin. He curled in a shot that looked netbound before it was diverted wide by a Pars defender.

More Livi pressure saw ex-Dunfermline man Shaun Byrne burst forward before cutting the ball inside for Jacobs. He, in turn, teed up Declan Gallagher who tried his luck from 30 yards with an effort that flew just over.

The Lions’ dominance was finally rewarded on the half hour mark as they took the lead when Pittman gathered a short corner from Mullin and drove inside before firing in a precise, low drive that fizzed past Murdoch before could react.

The visitors made a change six minutes from the break as Fraser Aird, who had struggled to have any kind of influence on the match, was replaced by David Hopkirk.

Just before the break, Carrick did well to keep the ball in play before releasing Mullen who had made a perfectly-timed run only to be wrongly flagged for offside. To rub salt into his wounds, Mullen was booked for having kept playing. In spite of that, the Lions went in at the break with their lead intact.

Half-time: Livingston 1-0 Dunfermline Athletic

The second half was far quieter to start with but burst into life on 52 minutes when the visitors’ Callum Smith went down in the box, promoting loud penalty appeals but referee Newlands was unmoved. There could have been a case and the decision perhaps had a bearing on what was to happen later.

Livi came close to doubling their lead on 56 minutes when, after Mullen and Carrick had shown great tenacity to chase down a lost cause to win a corner, Halkett got on the end of Mullin’s delivery but saw his header cleared off the line by Cardle.

Then came the controversy when Cardle threw himself to the ground with Halkett in close proximity. It looked a clear dive but the referee stunned everyone (including Cardle himself) by pointing to the spot. Higginbotham sent Alexander the wrong way from the spot to level the scores. The Pars then made their second change as Dean Shiels replaced Smith before Livi then made their first switch as De Vita replaced Carrick.

The match was far more even now and Longridge tried his luck from 20 yards on 68 minutes but his shot flew well over the bar. Byrne then showed some sublime skill to get in behind the Pars back line but no one could get on the end of his fine low cross.

Livi had taken control again and more good wide play from Mullin saw him fire a low ball in that was met by De Vita at the near post but his first time flew high over the bar.

A sudden spate of yellow cards saw Jean-Yves M’voto, Cardle and Gallagher all find their way into the referee’s book. Higginbotham, who had sparked the little tussle that saw Cardle and Gallagher’s names taken, escaped without punishment.

Livi made their second change on 83 minutes as Nicky Cadden replaced Mullin before they were gifted the chance to win the match two minutes later as, having done well to steer Mullen away from goal, M’voto inexplicably scythed him down, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the spot. Mullen dusted himself down to take it but Murdoch guessed right, diving to his left to push his spot kick away from danger.

M’voto was perhaps fortunate to escape a second yellow card for the foul that led to the penalty, particularly as Longridge went into the book for a similar challenge in a less dangerous area.

Livi made a final change in injury time as Mullen was replaced by Nikolay Todorov but there was little time for it to have any effect as the final whistle sounded soon after, signalling a satisfactory return to the Championship for the Lions, but one that could have yielded so much more.

Full-time: Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic

Attention now returns to the Betfred Cup and Tuesday night’s last-16 clash with Falkirk. Both sides were unbeaten in the group stage so it will certainly be another good test for the Lions, especially with the Bairns looking to bounce back from losing their Championship opener at St Mirren on Saturday.

Livingston: Alexander, Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, Mullin (Cadden 84), Byrne, Pittman, Jacobs, Longridge, Carrick (De Vita 67), Mullen (Todorov 90)
Subs not used: Maley, Knox, Robinson, Peters
Goals: Pittman (30)

Dunfermline Athletic: Murdoch, Williamson, Martin, M’Voto, Ashcroft, Higginbotham, Wedderburn, Cardle, Paton, Aird (Hopkirk 40), Smith (Shiels 65)
Subs not used: Gill, Splaine, Talbot, Duthie, Lochhead
Goals: Higginbotham (63 pen)

Referee: Alan Newlands
Att: 2,301
Match Report: Andy Crawford

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