Livi welcomed Airdrieonians to the Tony Macaroni Arena in a top-of-the-table clash, with the league leaders looking to open up a ten point lead over their closest rivals.
The visitors knew that a victory would close the gap to only four points and re-ignite their own hopes of securing promotion. The home side made one change from Tuesday’s starting eleven at Ochilview, with Matthew Knox being replaced by Liam Buchanan.
Once again, The Lions’ bench looked strong with Danny Mullen returning to the squad after a couple of weeks on the side-lines through injury. Airdrie’s top scorer, Any Ryan, was missing through suspension and centre back Daniel Boateng was unavailable after last Saturday’s red card in the heavy defeat to Stenhousemuir.
Although conditions were dry, the cold wind reminded the players that it was December. The pitch, looking bare and patchy, hadn’t benefitted from the three weeks of away football that the team had faced recently. The warm-up showed that the surface was likely to cut up badly during the game and had the potential to influence the quality of play. That fear was realised because, despite the best of intentions from both sides, it wasn’t going to be a day for fast flowing football.
The opening spell was a cagey affair, with both sides anxious in possession and fearful of falling behind. Ryan Conroy and Iain Russell both had scrappy efforts from outside the penalty area but failed to trouble Livi goalkeeper Liam Kelly.
But the hosts sprang into life in the 10th minute and took the lead with a well-worked goal. Excellent, intricate exchanges between Buchanan and De Vita on the right hand side of the box resulted in the Italian squaring the ball to Dale Carrick who stroked the ball calmly into the net from six yards.
Having taken the lead, The Lions grew in belief and began to take the game to The Diamonds. De Vita had two efforts in as many minutes but both were blocked before Dale Carrick’s right footed attempt from outside the area flew wide of the post. But, as the first half progressed, that second goal looked increasingly likely.
With only 10 minutes to play until half-time, Liam Buchanan missed a glorious opportunity to double Livi’s advantage. A headed knock-down landed at the striker’s feet with an open goal only three yards out but he miscued his effort and the ball skidded along the six yard box before being cleared. It would prove to be the last meaningful chance of the opening half and The Lions went in at the interval with a single goal lead.
HT Livi 1-0 Airdrieonians.
The home side was forced into a half-time substitution, with the injured Jackson Longridge being replaced by Nicky Cadden. That change required an adjustment to the formation too, with manager David Hopkin reverting to a 3-5-2 formation to accommodate a second winger.
The visitors started the second half with even more aggression than the first, placing greater emphasis on the physical side of their game in the hope that this would get them back into the match. Kyle Hutton was the first of only three Airdrie players to receive a yellow card, after 50 minutes, although the referee showed restraint in failing to book one or two others. In the 58th minute, the tireless Dale Carrick found himself through in a wide position left of goal but his left footed effort flew over the bar when a cross to Buchanan may have been a better option.
It was to be his last serious attempt because, after 66 minutes, he was replaced by the returning Danny Mullen. There is little doubt that Carrick’s recent performances, having returned from spells on the side-lines himself, have shown his value to the squad. He has become a favourite of the home fans for his selfless play and endless energy, as well as his two goals and overall contribution.
Despite controlling the game, The Lions’ slender lead meant that the supporters could never really relax and there were clear signs of anxiety from those in the Livi end of the stadium. The visitors had never really posed a serious threat but a single goal advantage is never truly comfortable for those watching on from the stands.
As the game drew to a close, Morgyn Neill replaced Liam Buchanan and Livi reverted to a 4-4-2 in an effort to secure all three points. But The Lions continued to press for a killer second and almost scored through Nicky Cadden with only six minutes remaining. The wide man fired in a left footed shot from inside the penalty area but Ferguson saved to keep his side in contention.
The visitors began to take more risks in search of an equaliser and Livi attempted to catch them on the counter attack. In the final minute of normal time, a foul by Morgyn Neill gave Airdrieonians a free kick wide on the right hand side. The ball was floated into the penalty area but cleared to safety. Livi secured possession high up the park and Danny Mullen played in Josh Mullin, who ran through on goal with only the visiting goalkeeper to beat. However, Ferguson made a good save but could only parry the ball to the side.
Mullin seized possession again and passed the ball to Cadden, who fired the ball into the net from six yards to seal a thoroughly deserved victory for the home team.
FT Livi 2-0 Airdrieonians.
Although the performance lacked some of the flair and excitement that was prominent in the early part of the season, the win gives The Lions a commanding 10-point lead at the top of League One. A second clean sheet in a row shows that, as well as being the league’s leading goal scorers, Livi have all the ingredients to continue their long unbeaten spell. With another home game next Saturday, this time to a Queens Park side that humbled the leaders at Hampden earlier in the season, the West Lothian team has an excellent chance to extend their lead at the top.
Livingston: Kelly, Crighton, Longridge (Cadden 45), Byrne, Halkett, Mullin, Lithgow, Pittman, Carrick (Mullen 66), Buchanan (Neill 76), De Vita
Subs not used: Maley, Knox, Currie, Ogilvie
Goals: Carrick (10), Cadden (89)
Airdrie: Ferguson, Stewart, McIntosh, Gorman, MacDonald, Conroy, Brown, Hutton, Schmidt (Leighton 85), Leitch (Loudon 72), Russell
Subs not used: Kerr, Higgins, , Scullion, McLaughlin, Cairns
Referee: Steven Reid
Match report: Calum Brown