Livingston kept alive their hopes of a top six finish with a return to winning ways against St Johnstone as they picked up a 2-0 victory.
With Hibs having won the Edinburgh derby earlier in the day, the equation for the Tony Macaroni Arena outfit was simple – win to ensure their hopes continued into next week’s final pre-split fixture away to Dundee United. Having picked up just one win in their last seven league clashes, that felt like no easy task but they duly turned in a display more reflective of their earlier form.
Cheered on by a bumper crowd thanks to over 4000 free tickets being handed out to the local community, Livi controlled the contest pretty much from the off and were rewarded with a brace of fine first-half goals. Bruce Anderson – recalled to the team – was instrumental in both goals with his clever pass sending Joel Nouble clear to slot home the opener on 23 minutes before the striker won the free-kick just before the interval that Stephen Kelly curled into the net.
It makes for a thrilling final weekend before the split with Livingston knowing only a win will do – and that must be coupled with either Hibs failing to replicate that at McDiarmid Park against St Johnstone or St Mirren losing at home to Kilmarnock.
Coming off a pair of 3-0 defeats, David Martindale changed the formation back to the 4-3-3 that has been so effective at various times throughout the season and it worked a treat.
Livingston started brightly and twice went close in the opening five minutes as Steven Bradley dragged wide from a wonderful Morgan Boyes pass over the top before Nouble’s attempted lob over Remi Matthews moments later had the keeper at full stretch as he clawed it out of the air.
Shamal George was alert on the 12-minute mark to deal with a Connor MacLennan header from six yards out as the visitors enjoyed their first spell of pressure in the contest.
The Lions continued to enjoy the better of the play and they deservedly got themselves in front midway through the first half as Anderson’s defence-splitting pass sent Nouble through between the Saints centre-backs before he calmly curled beyond Matthews for his seventh of the campaign.
Anderson thought he had a second assistant 10 minutes later as he got in behind the defence down the right flank and squared from Bradley to roll the ball home but the former was ruled to be offside following a VAR check. The home fans didn’t have to wait long to celebrate, though, as they doubled their advantage seven minutes before the break.
Anderson was brought down by Cammy MacPherson 25 yards from goal with Stephen Kelly duly curling home an absolute peach that kissed the inside of the woodwork as the strike evaded the diving Matthews.
The hosts started the second-half brightly but it was St Johnstone who created the first real chance – and it should have been buried as half-time substitute Graham Carey somehow managed to blast comfortably over the bar when found by MacLennan unmarked 10 yards out.
Livi had chances to bury the game shortly after that miss as they continued to waltz through the Saints backline. A wonderful passing move down the right flank ended with Cristian Montano taking a bad touch when he looked set to score while Anderson couldn’t connect properly on a Kelly cutback.
Having previously squandered a glorious opportunity, Carey must have thought he’d dragged his team back into the clash 10 minutes from time when he angled drive appeared headed for the net – only for Morgan Boyes to hook the ball off the line as they comfortably saw out the remainder of the contest to keep their season alive.
Match Report: Callum Carson (Daily Record)
Livingston: George, Devlin ©️, Fitzwater, Boyes, Montano; St.Kelly (Omeonga 86), Holt ▊ (Sn.Kelly 82), Shinnie, Bradley (Pittman 77), Anderson, Nouble
Subs not used: Hamilton, Bahamboula, Brandon, De Lucas, Guthrie, Penrice
Goals: Nouble (23), St.Kelly (38)
St Johnstone: Matthews, Wright, McGowan, Gordon, Montgomery, Phillips (Carey 45), MacPherson (Wotherspoon 78), MacLennan, Hallberg, Murphy (Rudden 66), May
Subs not used: Sinclair, Brown, Gallacher, Mitchell, Bair, Moreland
Referee: David Munro