So after two weeks of rumours doing the rounds and supporters guessing who would finally take charge of the Lions following Gary Bollan’s departure, John Hughes took to the Almondvale dug-out for the first-time since his Falkirk side came here and took all three points back in January 2006.
With Brian Welsh having masterminded a comfortable 3-1 win against Partick Thistle before leaving for America, Hughes went for the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach, opting to stick with the exact same 16 as the previous week.
The opening 15 minutes served up a relatively even match with both teams creating chances. Marc McNulty came close from a Bobby Barr corner but David McGurn saved his header with ease. Joe Hamill’s corner down the other end found Iain Davidson but neither him nor Grant Murray could get a clean connection on the ball before Stefan Scougall nicked in to clear. Scougall’s misplaced pass then allowed Hamill to slip the ball into the path of Damian Casalinuovo but Andy McNeil raced from his line to halt the opportunity.
With 17 minutes on the clock, Livi’s next chance at goal was to lead to the opener. Bobby Barr stole possession from Murray in the middle of the park and after playing a one-two with Scougall, he found himself through on goal. His low shot was well saved by McGurn but the ball landed perfectly for Kyle Jacobs on the edge of the area and he made no mistake in firing the ball home. It was a second goal in as many games for Jacobs who appears to relishing his return to the middle of the park.
This seemed to calm the Lions down as they began to take a real foothold on the game. McNulty collected a loose pass from Hamill and drove at the Raith back-line before slipping the ball into Kyle Jacobs, but this time the midfielder dragged his shot wide of the goal from a tight angle.
Kyle’s brother Keaghan then watched a shot of his own fly over the bar before McNulty really should have doubled the home sides advantage. An excellent piece of passing play saw the Lions move from front to back and Jason Talbot delivered a brilliant cross which landed at the feet of McNulty but after beating his man, he blazed his shot high of the goal from 10 yards out.
The second-half started with a rare Raith chance as a John Baird header flew just wide after he got on the end of a free kick. However, with only 3 second-half minutes played, the Lions made it two. Some excellent close control from Keaghan Jacobs allowed him to evade three Raith challenges before playing the ball inside to Scougall who drove forward. With the Raith defence being drawn to the ball, Marc McNulty peeled wide, and when Scougall laid the ball to him just outside the box, he made no mistake in dragging it past his man and firing across McGurn and into the net.
That goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Raith and the Livi attacks became more frequent as the game went on. Bobby Barr did well to win possession in the corner and he laid the ball for Keaghan Jacobs who crashed a shot off the bar. The rebound did fall to Kyle Jacobs but McGurn and Williamson combined to block his frantic attempts to poke the ball over the line. McNulty and Barr then combined to set-up Keaghan but McGurn made a great save at his feet to prevent a third.
You could argue it was more a case of prolonging than preventing as Livi did eventually make it three – and all from a Raith corner. The ball into the box was headed clear by Kyle and collected by Keaghan who played a brilliant one-two down the wing with Barr. Barr continued his run and latched onto another pass from Keaghan before firing the ball across goal for McNulty to tap in and claim his second of the game. It was a fine example of counter-attacking football and one that more than merited the goal that completed the move.
Kyle had another shot saved by McGurn before a fourth goal completed the route. Kyle and Keaghan linked up in the middle of the park again with the latter finding McNulty on the edge of the box, and as he took the ball past defender Iain Davidson, he was sent tumbling to the deck. The referee pointed to the spot and sent Davidson packing for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Of course with two goals to his name already, up stepped McNulty to send the ‘keeper the wrong way and claim the match ball. In doing so, McNulty also became the first player in Livingston history to score two hat tricks in one season following his first senior treble earlier in the season against Irvine Meadow.
With the outcome beyond doubt, McNulty was substituted for Iain Russell and straight away ‘Beanie’ was close to grabbing his first goal since October. Bobby Barr gathered a poor kick-out from McGurn and slid the ball inside to Russell but he rolled his shot just wide of the post. Barr himself had the final shot of the game, cutting inside from the right wing but his shot was blocked by the head of Laurie Ellis.
An emphatic win for Hughes on his first game in charge and the first time this season that the Lions have secured back-to-back home wins.
McNeil, McNeil, Docherty, Talbot, Watson, C.Barr, Ky.Jacobs, B. Barr, Fox (Easton 74), McNulty (I.Russell 70), Scougall (Cummings 66), Kn.Jacobs
Subs not used: Fordyce, Jamieson
McGurn, Donaldson, Dyer, Davidson, Murray, A.Walker, Williamson (Callachan 58), Clarke (J.Walker 46), Baird, Casalinuovo (Ellis 83), Hamill
Subs not used: Graham, ,Laidlaw
Ref: B Colvin
Match report by Dave Black