Livingston suffered defeat at the hands of Queen’s Park for the second time this season, in the last home game of the calendar year.
It was a game that The Lions will look back on with much regret, given their total domination of the match.
There was some surprise that the game went ahead, given the torrential rain and gale force winds over the last 24 hours. However, although the pitch was heavy and likely to cut up badly, there was no standing water. Conditions were challenging, with strong gusts of wind and frequent showers, but Livi started the stronger of the two sides and took the game to their opponents.
The early signs were encouraging. Cadden found himself wide on the left and, after some wonderful trickery, he unleashed a shot that was blocked by a defender. The rebound fell to Buchanan, whose attempt was also stopped by an outstretched leg, before Josh Mullin failed to hit the target with the subsequent effort.
Although the wind had died down a little, it played a vital role in Livi’s next attempt. Sean Crighton’s attempted cross was held up in the breeze and the ball came close to sneaking under the bar, requiring Muir in the Queen’s Park goal to tip it over for a corner, Mullin’s shot from the cleared corner forced Muir into another save to keep the match goalless. As the half progressed, there was a growing sense among the home supporters that Livi could regret failing to convert their superiority into goals. The visitors were content to soak up the home side’s domination and clear the ball up the field to relieve the pressure whenever they could.
With 10 minutes to play until half time, the visitors won a corner in the first of a serious of bizarre decisions by referee Mr Kirkland. With Josh Mullin looking to shield the ball out for a goal kick, he was clearly barged in the back by his opponent and the ball struck his leg to go out of play. That sense of injustice was almost made worse when the resulting corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area and Bryan Wharton’s powerful drive was heroically blocked by Craig Halkett, who threw his body in the way to stop the ball from hitting the target.
A series of corners followed for The Spiders, which looking increasingly dangerous for the home side. From one of them, Ryan McGeever’s header from close range was the closest that the visitors came to breaking the deadlock.
However, with the first half coming to a close, Livi took a deserved lead. Shaun Byrne played the ball through to Liam Buchanan, and the striker managed to squeeze a shot under the on-rushing Muir. But the ball struck the keeper’s body and squirmed towards the empty net, before Buchanan followed up to tap it into the goal at full stretch from two feet. It was a goal that Livi’s domination deserved and there was a collective sigh of relief around the stadium.
HT: Livi 1-0 Queen’s Park
The visitors came out for the second half looking to get a foothold in the game. In the 51st minute, Scott Gibson’s fierce shot from 25 yards was finger-tipped past the post by the diving Liam Kelly. The Spiders’ Bryan Wharton was correctly given a yellow card for a cynical tackle on Nicky Cadden, pulling the winger down without any attempt to play the ball. It was the first of a string of similar actions from the amateurs, who’d clearly been well-drilled in some of the more professional aspects of the game.
After 55 minutes, the game was all square after Queen’s Park were awarded a soft penalty by Mr Kirkland. A controversial corner was given, when Mullin appeared to be fouled, and the ball was swung into the area. It fell between McGreever and Lithgow and, in a tangle of legs, the referee adjudged that the Livi defender had committed a foul. McKernon stepped up to fire the ball low into Kelly’s left hand corner, although the keeper got the slightest of touches on it as he dived at full stretch.
The Lions were forced into action and, straight from the kick-off, Dale Carrick found himself with his back to goal. He turned and, with his less favoured left foot, fired a low shot beyond Muir but it came back off the post and was cleared to safety.
But the visitors sensed that it was going to their day. After a foul by Sean Crighton on the left hand touchline, the ball was fired into the Livi penalty area. The home defence failed to clear it and it fell to Adam Cummins, who finished neatly from 12 yards to give Queen’s Park the lead against the run on play.
With Livi feeling aggrieved at some of the decisions from the officials, their play became increasingly desperate. The manager changed to a 4-4-2 from a 3-5-2 on the hour mark, by replacing Josh Mullin with Jackson Longridge. As The Lions were adjusting to the new formation, Aiden Malone almost extended The Spiders’ lead but Kelly’s flying save kept his side in the game.
After 64 minutes, the hard-working Dale Carrick was replaced by Danny Mullen in the hope of grabbing an equaliser. A succession of fouls were given against Livingston, for reasons that were unclear to those watching on. Jamie McKernon was shown a yellow card for a cynical tackle on Shaun Byrne before Livi had a glorious chance to equalise.
The ball was played to Mullen and he killed the ball with an immaculate first time touch inside the penalty area. As he took the ball between two of the visiting defenders, Gibson tripped him and the referee had little choice but to award a spot kick. Liam Buchanan stepped up but his casual effort down the middle of the goal was stopped by Muir’s legs and the keeper got to the rebound before the striker to keep his side ahead.
Anton Brady was next to receive a yellow card as the Glasgow side’s win-at-all-costs determination to hold on to their lead surfaced. With time running out, Livi’s Raffaele De Vita was lucky to escape with only a caution after a frustrated lunge could’ve resulted in a red card rather than a yellow one. But, as it looked as though there would be no more opportunities, The Lions should have been awarded a second penalty.
With the ball spending most of the time in the Queen’s Park box, a headed clearance fell to Liam Buchanan only 8 yards out with his back to goal. As he looked to control it, he was barged in the back by a defender. The referee blew his whistle and, to the amazement of the players and supporters alike, he awarded the visitors a free kick and gave the Livi striker a yellow card. It would prove to be the last chance for the home side.
FT: Livi 1-2 Queen’s Park
It was a disappointing outcome in a game that The Lions dominated throughout. But it shows that possession means little when it’s not converted to goals and the league leaders will have to address its defensive fragilities as the season continues. More clinical finishing would have had secured all three points before the interval.
With results elsewhere going in favour of Livi’s rivals, The Lions’ lead at the top of the table has been reduced to only 7 points. The final game of the year is a tricky fixture next Saturday away at East Fife, and Livi will remember losing 3-1 there earlier in the campaign. Although that result was reversed when the sides met at the Tony Macaroni Arena in November, the West Lothian side will know that a victory is essential if they are to regain the initiative at the top of the league.
Livingston: Kelly, Lithgow, Byrne, Halkett, Crighton, Pittman, Cadden (Neill 90), De Vita, Mullin (Longridge 62), Buchanan, Carrick (Mullen 63)
Subs not used: Knox, Sinclair, Currie, Maley
Goals: Buchanan (40)
Queen’s Park: Muir, Wharton, Gibson, McGeever, Cummins, McKernon, Woods, McVey, Brady, Burns, Malone (Galt 70)
Subs not used: McLeish, Brown, Mortimer, Foy, MacPherson, Stott
Goals: McKernon (55 pen), Cummins (58)
Referee: Steven Kirkland
Match Report: Calum Brown