The Lions suffered defeat in game two of Group G in the Premier Sports Cup as Inverness took all three points back up the A9 thanks to goals from Austin Samuels and Daniel Mackay.
David Martindale made four changes from Saturday’s 3-2 victory at Cliftonhill against Albion Rovers, with Ivan Konovalov, Scott Bitsindou, Andrew Shinnie and Josh Mullin all dropping to the bench. Max Stryjek and Sean Kelly were in from the start while there were first competitive starts for new signings Phill Cancar and Dylan Bahamboula.
Livingston created the first chance early on after a fantastic solo run by Joel Nouble. The forward out-strengthened full back Cameron Harper and showed brilliant pace and skill to get to the by-line before cutting back for Esmael Goncalves, whose shot was palmed away by Mark Ridgers.
Inverness came close to an opener themselves moments later. Harper’s free kick was met by Robbie Deas whose flicked header was tipped onto the bar by Stryjek.
Stryjek had to be alert again as the visitors continued to threaten on the break. A nice, quick move ended with Daniel Mackay one on one with the goalkeeper, but a good stop from close range denied the winger.
The crowd inside the Tony Macaroni Arena then came agonisingly close to witnessing one of the best goals they’d seen when, out of nowhere, Nicky Devlin clipped the ball from his own half over Caley keeper Ridgers. The strike looked destined to loop over the former Hearts man but a wonderful flying save in desperation saw him tip the ball onto the bar much to the Livi skipper’s heartache.
Eight minutes before half time, Inverness took the lead despite Livi’s dominant possession and control. After Goncalves opted to try and find a pass rather than shoot, David Carson started a counter attack for the visitors. He quickly found Nathan Shaw who found Scott Allardice, and the midfielder sent a defence splitting pass in behind the Livi backline for Mackay. The winger, in a similar position to his earlier miss, decided to be unselfish on this occasion and squared for the onrushing Samuels who beat Cancar to the low cross, firing home to complete a smooth counter attack.
Half Time: Livingston 0-1 Inverness
Bruce Anderson was sent on at the break, replacing Goncalves, as Martindale freshened up his forward line. The striker had hoped to have a similar impact off the bench which saw him net at the weekend, but any chance of Livingston getting back into the game was lessened on 63 minutes when they were reduced to ten men.
Again, on the counter attack, Ridgers sent a long kick from hand over the top of the Livi defence which caused more problems. On the chase, Samuels got himself between James Penrice and Stryjek and with the ball outside of the area, the goalkeeper came with his knee to clear the ball catching the Inverness man in the process.
With the Pole sent off, Konovalov replaced Bahamboula and was immediately involved from the resultant free-kick as he made a terrific stop to deny Harper.
Four minutes after the red card, the man advantage told as Mackay made it two. The winger breezed past Scott Pittman on the left and fired a strike across goal into the far corner with the help of a deflection off Penrice.
The Lions looked dead and buried at a man and two goals down, but they fought back to make things interesting on 84 minutes. Devlin did well to beat his man on the right wing and cut back for hold, whose dummy sold Billy McKay and allowed him to make space for a strike which he sent beyond Ridgers to make it 2-1.
Just three minutes later, Livi were presented with a golden opportunity to complete an unlikely comeback. Referee Alan Muir pointed to the spot as Bitsindou was fouled by George Oakley inside the box after Shinnie’s corner. Up stepped Jason Holt to take the all-important spot kick, but the midfielder failed to level proceedings as he sent his effort over the bar from 12 yards.
Despite the miss, Livi dominated with a man short and threw everything at trying to find another opportunity for an equaliser – including sending forward Konovalov for a couple of late corners. However, no real chance came and Billy Dodds’ men would triumph and take all three points.
The result is a blow to Livingston’s chances of qualification to the last 16 from Group G, but they can take solace from progressing last year without winning their group. Two wins from their remaining two games, starting with Cove Rangers on Saturday, could still be enough to qualify as one of the best placed runners-up.
Match Report: Calum Brown
Livingston: Stryjek ▊, Devlin©️, Fitzwater ▊, Cancar, Penrice, Kelly ▊ (Bitsindou 74), Pittman, Holt, Bahamboula (Konovalov 61), Gonçalves (Anderson 45), Nouble (Shinnie 74)
Subs not used: Longridge, Brandon, Montaño, Omeonga, Mullin
Goals: Holt (84)
Inverness CT: Ridgers, Carson, Delaney ▊, Deas, Harper, Allardice (Oakley ▊ 77), Hyde (Boyd 63), MacGregor ▊, D.Mackay (Doran 72), Shaw (McKay 63), Samuels
Subs not used: C.Mackay, Cairns
Goals: Samuels (37), Mackay (67)
Referee: Craig Macrae