Livi produced another battling performance against runaway leaders Hearts but once again came up just short as the champions-elect claimed a second one-goal win over the Lions in the space of seven days.
Lions boss Mark Burchill made just one enforced change to the side from last week’s 3-2 home defeat to the Jambos, replacing the suspended Jason Talbot with Nejc Praprotnik as Kyle Jacobs took the armband for the first time.
Livi were encouraged by their showing a week earlier at the Energy Assets Arena and started brightly, with Danny Mullen taking the game to Hearts’ Callum Paterson in the early going. An early free kick saw Keaghan Jacobs swing a decent cross in but man mountain Gennaro Zeefuik headed clear. Hearts countered and Kenny Anderson raced clear down the left wing but was undone by his own clumsiness as he tripped himself up and the ball ran harmlessly out of play.
The first real chance of the game fell to the Lions as Jordan White let fly with a fine half-volley from 20 yards which Neil Alexander had to spring to his right to push away. Hearts’ response was swift and, after saving Jamie Walker’s low shot, Darren Jamieson did well to block Danny Wilson’s header from the resulting corner. Livi then broke up the other end and Keaghan played in Ibra Sekajja but the linesman’s flag.
The match continued to flow from end to end with Adam Eckersley the next to attack for Hearts but his effort from a tight angle flew high over the crossbar. The first yellow card followed soon after as Hearts’ James Keatings went into ref Alan Muir’s book for a foul on Callum Fordyce. Keatings brushed off his yellow card to force the Jambos’ next chance, letting fly from the edge of the box and forcing a terrific save from Jamieson. Mullen was then lucky to escape a yellow card for a foul on Walker. The home side claimed for a penalty soon after when Praprotnik tackled Prince Buaben in the box but the referee was uninterested. Paterson then sent a dangerous low ball across goal but there were no takers in maroon and Craig Sives was on hand to clear.
Livi were so unlucky not to take the lead just past the half hour mark when Fordyce rose highest to power Keaghan’s corner goalwards. His header beat Alexander all ends up but Eckersley was perfectly positioned to knock the ball clear off the line. Hearts once again swept upfield and Walker linked up well with Zeefuik before firing in a decent low shot which Jamieson did well to save.
That proved to be Livi’s final let-off as Hearts broke the deadlock soon after in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Walker let fly with a shot from the edge of the box that Fordyce did well to block, only for the ball to pop straight back to Walker and he showed great composure to round Jamieson and slot the ball home. Livi responded well to the loss of the opening goal and Mullen came close with a low effort which Alexander saved comfortably to ensure his side went in at the break with their 1-0 lead intact.
Hearts made a strong start to the second half and quickly set up camp around the Livi box, Buaben having the first effort of the half which was deflected just wide with Jamieson wrong-footed. After White and Alim Ozturk found their way into the referee’s book for some pushing and shoving off the ball, Praprotnik followed soon after for a trip on Walker with a yellow card that would prove costly soon after. Ozturk sent the resulting free kick high over the crossbar.
Livi gradually gained a foothold in the match and came agonisingly close to an equaliser when Sives met a free kick from O’Brien and powered a header goalwards which Alexander did well to tip over the bar. Livi made their first change soon after as ex-Jambo Gary Glen replaced Burton O’Brien but there was to be a blow within minutes as Praprotnik was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Buaben and the Lions found themselves down to ten men.
Despite their man disadvantage, Livi continued to push forward with Fordyce and Declan Gallagher both seeing efforts blocked. There was a let-off for Livi down the other end though as, in trying to clear, White headed against his own crossbar. Paterson then got in behind the Livi defence but fluffed his shot wide. Michael McKenna then entered the fray for Livi in place of Sekajja before the Lions final change saw Jack Beaumont replace Mullen shortly after.
Hearts wasted a big chance to make it 2-0 when Zeefuik latched on to a poor backpass from Glen but his attempt to dink the ball over Jamieson was to no avail. The final chance of the match fell to the home side as Billy King was presented with a golden chance to make it 2-0 but he could only blaze the ball high over the bar from 10 yards.
Those misses weren’t to prove costly as Hearts once again showed their ability to ground out wins as their relentless pursuit of the Championship title continues. For Livi there was more encouragement from the performance but it still ended in defeat, meaning the Lions remain cut adrift at the foot of the table ahead of a run of games including trips to Falkirk, Hibernian and Rangers.