A gallant Livi rally fell just short as a remarkable goal from Hibs keeper Mark Oxley proved to be the winner on the opening day of the SPFL Championship season at a sun-drenched Easter Road.
Livi gave their recently-relegated hosts a fright in the second half, after the Leith side had surged into a two-goal first half lead, but Declan Gallagher’s strike on the hour served only as a consolation as Alan Stubbs’s side made a winning start.
After a slow start from both sides, Hibs had the first chance of the game as former Falkirk striker Farid El Alagui rose to meet a corner but didn’t connect properly and the header flew harmlessly wide. Livi headed up the other end and came agonisingly close to taking the lead when Jason Talbot drilled a corner to the back post where Gallagher rose brilliantly to bullet in a header which cannoned back off the crossbar.
Hibs then launched a counter attack of their own and El Alagui saw a deflected shot fly over the bar. It proved only a brief let-off for Livi as, from the resulting corner, Liam Craig swung in a decent delivery and El Alagui was left completely unmarked to bullet a header high past Darren Jamieson and into the net to give Hibs the lead.
Within three minutes the home side had doubled their lead in improbable circumstances. Goalkeeper Oxley launched a kick from the edge of his own box and, with the help of the wind, the ball flew through to the Livi box and as Jamieson came to collect, he could only watch in horror as a heavy bounce sent the ball sailing over his head and into the net.
Hibs were rampant at this point and came close to a third when Craig picked up a low pass from Lewis Stevenson and drilled a low shot across goal and inches wide of the post. They continued to pour forward and Sam Stanton was the next to try his luck but his 25 yard effort sailed high over the bar. Jordan Forster then came close with a prodded effort from close range after a scramble in the box but his effort flew just over, possibly after a fingertip save by Jamieson.
This was a Hibs side unrecognisable from the one which surrendered their Premiership status with a whimper against Hamilton in May and Jamieson had to be at his best to save a long-range effort from Craig. El Alagui then wasted a golden chance to put the game to bed when he latched on to Forster’s flick-on to go clean through but his lobbed effort was too high and it cleared the bar comfortably.
After spending long periods under the cosh, Livi ended the half by finally putting the Hibs goal under some pressure and almost pulled one back in fortunate circumstances but Oxley reacted well to keep out Kyle Jacobs’ cross as it looked set to sneak in at his near post. From the resulting corner Livi came closer still to a lifeline as the ball broke to Fordyce near the edge of the box and his volleyed effort was goalbound until David Gray popped up on the line to launch the ball clear and ensure Hibs maintained their two-goal lead at half-time.
Livi returned to the field with boss John McGlynn’s words still ringing in their ears and they started the second half very brightly with Jordan White and Gary Glen linking up well before Glen sent a shot over the bar. Glen went close again soon after when he latched on to Kyle Jacobs’ low cross but could only fire his shot wide.
Hibs continued to carry a threat and probably should have made it three but, after finding himself in space, Stanton could only scuff his shot goalwards and Livi cleared easily.
Livi finally got themselves back into the game after an hour with a well-worked set-piece as Michael McKenna won a free-kick out on the right hand side just outside the Hibs box. McKenna took the free kick himself, laying the ball back to Keaghan Jacobs at the edge of the box and, when his shot came back off the crossbar, Gallagher was the quickest to react to roll the ball home with a first-time finish.
The Livi goal clearly rattled Hibs and they tried to raise themselves in an effort to restore their two goal cushion and El Alagui was inches away from getting on the end of a cross from Gray. Livi continued to threaten on the counter though and Glen fired a cross into the box which Oxley fumbled but no Livi player was on hand to finish and the Hibs defence cleared.
Hibs should have grabbed a third when Paul Heffernan wriggled free in the Livi box but Kyle Jacobs appeared from nowhere to nick the ball off his toes with a terrific tackle just as he prepared to pull the trigger. The game was becoming stretched and Livi went straight up the other end and the ball was played over the top of the Hibs defence for Danny Mullen who opted for a first-time strike which Oxley pushed wide of his right-hand post.
Hibs came close again when substitute Jason Cummings headed wide before Livi missed a good chance to square the game when Burton O’Brien’s free kick was flicked on by Fordyce to Gallagher but he could only fire over the bar and Hibs had survived to secure a first home win in six months to get their Championship season up and running. Despite the defeat there was much to be positive about for Livi as they move on to the challenges ahead.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Forster, Harris, Robertson, El Alagui, Craig, Stanton (Kennedy 80), Heffernan (Cummings 80), Stevenson
Subs not used: Perntreou, Nelson, Allan, Booth, Tudur-Jones
Livingston: Jamieson, Talbot, Fordyce, Gallagher, Ky.Jacobs, Kn.Jacobs, O'Brien, McKenna, Mullen (Robertson 82), Glen (Hippolyte 72), White (Burchill 82)
Subs not used: Grant, Beaumont, Moffat, Rutherford
Referee: Bobby Madden
Match report: Andrew Crawford